The People vs. Vladimir Putin

The Russian Middle Class Campaigns Against the Kremlin

(Tatyana Makeyeva / Courtesy Reuters)

This past Sunday, a few minutes before two o’clock in the afternoon, the Garden Ring road in Moscow, a ten-mile-long, multilane circle that wraps around the city center, was covered in a light, wet snowfall. The organizers of Russia’s opposition protests had hoped to organize a human chain that would stretch across the entire ring, which at an average width of a foot and a half per person, they estimated would take 34,000 people.

At exactly two o’clock, the hour the demonstration was supposed to start, the patch of sidewalk where I was standing near the Sukharevskaya metro station was thick with people standing arm in arm, chatting and joking, white ribbons pinned to their winter coats. A young couple, Alexei and Nina, had just arrived. “We wanted to be with all these people,” Alexei told me. The crowd around us was buoyant and cheerful; meanwhile, cars with ribbons hanging out of the passenger windows were making laps around the ring road, their drivers honking their horns in solidarity. “They can’t decide for us,” he said, referring to Putin and his allies in the Kremlin. “We’re here to show that we can decide for ourselves.”

A few steps down, a group of young men were waving at the passing cars and taking pictures. “We want to say that we exist, we’re also here,” said Georgy Avilov, a 26-year-old information technology specialist. He was with two friends: Nikita Ananin, an engineer, and Denis Vavayev, a lawyer. “The government has to consider our opinion,” Ananin said. “After all, we’re not a small group,” he explained, pointing toward what had now grown to be a solid line of people that disappeared around the bend of the ring road.

As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks toward this Sunday’s presidential election, a contest he is all but assured of winning, he will have to confront a difficult question that will linger long after his

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