MOSCOW –- The opposition had trumpeted the protest Saturday as the “March of Millions,” and the authorities were ready, deploying thousands of riot police in full gear all around the center of Moscow, blocking key streets with heavy trucks and sending police helicopters hovering back and forth.
But as night fell, only 20,000 people at most had shown up for a litany of somewhat listless chants, speeches and songs against President Vladimir Putin before going home past endless lines of riot police visibly bored for lack of action.
After a long summer break from massive protests that had galvanized the opposition, the anti-Putin movement was eager to demonstrate a powerful comeback in the eyes of the Kremlin and the nation. Just a day before the rally, a key member of the opposition had been stripped of his post in parliament, and leaders were hoping that protesters would be fired up over that move to choke off dissent and the imprisoning of more than a dozen activists.
Instead, a smallish crowd marched a few miles across downtown Moscow displaying the requisite white flags of the liberals, the yellow-white-and-black flags of the nationalists and the red banners of the communists under gray skies.
“It is the same old tune and the same old song, which changes nothing, but the crowd grows thinner and thinner,” said Tatiana Smirnova, a 47-year-old homemaker who has been a regular attendee since last winter’s protests, which drew more than 100,000 people infuriated over alleged cheating in December parliamentary elections.
“I didn’t hear any new slogans or ideas today,” she said, “and I don’t see much point in coming here again unless they find a way to change something.”
Smirnova recalled coming to one of the rallies in the same spot last year when the whole stretch of the wide avenue was thick with people.
“Today you can see that it is full only to its quarter or so,” she said with a disappointing sigh as a cold wind started to blow the yellow and brown foliage underfoot and she turned to go home.
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Opposition protesters gather under gray Moscow skies Saturday to voice their anger with President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times