Russia's anti-Putin protests are growing
A major test is ahead for Vladmir Putin's government as protestors will gather in 80 cities in Russia over the weekend to protest the recent parliamentary elections that many observers and most Russians believe was rigged.
More than 16,700 people indicated on Facebook their intention to gather in Revolution Square, a stone's throw from the Kremlin, this Saturday. Another 5,500 said they would attend a similar protest in St Petersburg. Protests were also being organised in more than 80 cities across Russia, including the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and the Siberian city of Surgut.
But there was growing fear that the Russian authorities would step up their action against protesters.
Yevgenia Chirikova, an environmental activist turned opposition leader, said she feared the Kremlin would move beyond the haphazard arrests and the deployment of pro-Kremlin youth groups that have so far marked its response to the protests. She noted that the government had recently approved a pay increase for the army, a move designed to ensure its loyalty.
"Putin has no other choice than to hold on to power, shoot himself or sit in jail," she said. "The system he has built is so corrupted, and there have been so many crimes, that there is no other path. He will fight for his power."
Two of the opposition's leaders, Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, remain jailed.
Vladimir Milov, another opposition leader, warned people to stay away from Saturday's protest.
"All this can end in big blood," he wrote on the website of Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station. "This is the most dangerous thing in today's situation."
Putin is not likely to adopt the tactics of Bashar Assad or President Saleh in Yemen and open fire on crowds of civilians. The Russian president is crude, but careful in his oppression. More likely, he will adopt the tactics of the Iranians and prevent the protests from occurring in the first place by breaking up smaller groups who are headed to the protest site. He may shut down the transportation system in cities. And he could arrest protest leaders in advance of the demonstrations.
None of this is likely to stop the protests entirely. But the lessons of Tahrir have been absorbed by the tyrants of the world and one way or another, massive demonstrations against the regime will be stopped.