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Does The Russian Protest Movement Have Legs?

News that Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won 53% of the seats in parliamentary elections sparked protests in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Unsure they can sustain a mass movement now, organizers have their sights set on Putin's upcoming r

MOSCOW The burst of protests this week against the contested Russia parliamentary election has pro-democracy activists focused on an even bigger target: next year's campaign for president.

"We don't have the numbers for some kind of permanent protest, so we still need to conserve our energy," said Mikhail Shneider, Solidarity's executive secretary. "Now we really need to prepare, not for a mass protest, but for a serious presence during the presidential election."

In one of the country's largest political demonstrations in recent years, Moscow police arrested more than 300 people Monday who turned out to protest against the results of the elections for the Duma, the Russian parliament, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party won 53% of the seats. Putin, who has already served two past terms as president, will run for the country's highest office in March.

Monday's protest began at the Chistiye Prudy metro station in Moscow, where the opposition group "Solidarity" was granted a permit to demonstrate. But when the gathering ended, the group, which was much larger than the organizers expected, broke through police barricades and began marching towards Lubyanka, the former KGB headquarters.

According to eyewitnesses, there were more than 5,000 protesters. Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout but have no plans at this point to establish any kind of ongoing presence in the streets. But continuing mass actions are not out of the question, said Georgei Satarov, the president of the Indem Foundation, a pro-democracy NGO in Russia.

Not listening

"People feel insulted, quite seriously so. That is pretty obvious. It's hard to say if that will translate to people on the street. The government perfectly understands the reality," Satarov said. "They are in a panic. They are going to try to find a way out. I am not certain if they will be able to do that in a civilized manner. The government is the reason for the change in people's mood. They are the reason people are resentful. Based on its reaction to elections, however, the government is not listening."

The president of the National Strategy Institute, Mikhail Remizov, on the other hand, doubts that a major movement will develop.

"The weakest link in this protest is the fact that people who showed up in the square had to defend other people's positions - that is, the positions held by the opposition party," said Remizov. "And those parties got what they expected from the elections. I think that a serious protest movement will only be possible when people are fighting for their own victory."

Protests also took place Monday in St. Petersburg, where, unlike in Moscow, they were not authorized by the city government. Police in St. Petersburg made some 120 arrests.

Read the original story in Russian

Photo -Tatiana Ipatova

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Donetsk People's Republic holds referendum on joining Russia

Irene Caselli, Cameron Manley, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

Russia's proxies in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions announced that referendums on joining Russia had begun that Ukrainian and Western officials have denounced as shams.

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For four days, "voting" will be held at people's homes "for security reasons," Russian state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti wrote. On the last day of the "referendums," on September 27, locals will be asked to go to "polling stations."

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