MOSCOW – Their frozen breath rising in the brutally frigid air, tens of thousands of protesters marched through downtown Moscow on Saturday to keep up the pressure on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin one month before a presidential election that could extend his rule for six more years.
The protesters have few illusions that they can drive Putin from power now, but for the first time in years Russians are challenging his control and demanding that their voices be heard.
Wrapped in furs or dressed for the ski slope, as many as 120,000 people turned out for the third and perhaps largest rally since Putin’s party won a parliamentary election Dec. 4 with the help of what appeared to be widespread fraud.
The election was the last straw for Russians increasingly unhappy with the creeping authoritarianism during Putin’s 12-year rule. Two protest rallies in December, which also drew tens of thousands, were the biggest in Russia since the demonstrations 20 years ago that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The deep freeze that has settled over the Russian capital threatened to keep many away on Saturday, with temperatures dropping to minus 4 degrees.
Instead, they tied on the white ribbons that have become the symbol of the protest movement and marched about a mile to a square across the river from the Kremlin while chanting “Russia Without Putin.” Thousands of police monitored the two-hour protest without intervening.