Shrinking Putin protests seek new spark

Russia`s protest movement is looking for new tactics to pose a more serious challenge to Vladimir Putin.

Moscow: Russia`s protest movement is looking
for new tactics to pose a more serious challenge to Vladimir
Putin after its latest rally failed to muster big numbers and
cracks appeared in its unity.

Organisers admitted no more than 25,000 people came out
yesterday for a protest one week after Putin`s crushing
presidential poll victory -- a fraction of the numbers at past
events that activists said rallied over 100,000.

Their ranks looked not only thinner but also older and
more nationalist in tone as the hip city youth that turned
past gatherings into celebrations largely stayed at home.

Analysts and organisers both feel the movement will need
to become more focused and set concrete targets to keep its
momentum now that the 12-year era of Putin`s domination has
been extended through at least 2018.

"We all know what we are against. We must show what we
are for," the young celebrity-cum-journalist Ksenia Sobchak
told the subdued Moscow crowd.

Few observers doubt that the wave of public discontent --
even if it now takes on a more latent form after the March 4
ballot -- has given Putin something to ponder as he prepares
for his May 7 inauguration in the Kremlin.

Some point to that symbolic date as the target for a
possible new rallying cry while others think a series of
summer price hikes Putin has been postponing until after the
elections may give the rallies new impetus.

"The protests delivered a big jolt to the political
system which is already starting to change," said Carnegie
Moscow Centre analyst Nikolai Petrov. "The elite knows the
system is not viable in its current form."

Yet the same splits that have hounded the mottled
opposition forces since the early post-Soviet era emerged
again on Saturday and are unlikely to be settled any time

A group of nationalists pulled out their enormous brown
and black flag from the crowd and went home after some their
more radical members were not offered the stage by the mostly
liberal organisers.

The speaking ban appeared to have come from a fear that
radical voices were beginning to alienate the broader masses
who first came out in protest against a fraud-tainted
parliamentary ballot three months ago.

Former US secretary of state and long time Russia
observer Condoleezza Rice warned that a militant tone to the
movement may well spell its doom.

The "liberals have a ready-made constituency in the
rising middle class and its youthful vanguard. They cannot
waste this opportunity," she wrote this month in The
Washington Post.


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