The rallies attracted between 75,000 and 200,000 people in total, but no-one really knows for sure how many attended. With all the different claims and counter-claims out there, it really depends on who you believe.
In fact, both the organisers from each side claimed attendance of 100,000 plus. The Moscow Times reports that its journalists on the scene estimated a turnout of 50,000 at the opposition rallies and around 25,000 at the pro-Putin rally.
The opposition rally, which focused on calling for a re-run of December’s disputed parliamentary elections and on opposing Putin’s bid for the Presidency, seems to have been a relatively peaceful affair, with far fewer reports of arrests than at previous rallies.
Although two of the candidates in the March Presidential election were due to attend the rally, only one showed up in the end. Mikhail Prokhorov took part in the rally, although strangely for a politician, declined the opportunity to make a speech. Sergei Mironov, who had previously promised to attend eventually decided to stay away entirely.
The organisers will no doubt be pleased overall with the way things went. This weekend’s march demonstrates that the opposition seems to be maintaining its momentum and is capable of repeatedly pulling tens of thousands (a hundred thousand if you believe the organisers claims) of people out onto the snowy streets of Moscow. This will give continued heart to those who oppose Putin’s re-election bid, and may also provide food for thought for those from the establishment who hope that opposition might melt after the election season is over.
The copmpeting pro-Putin rally was also well attended, although perhaps not as well attended as its organisers would have you believe.
There has been a lot of speculation as to whether the pro-Putin rally was a spontaneous as the opposition rallies, and whether those who attended did so because they truly believed in Putin or because they were coerced into attending – an example of the latter is this report from RIA Novosti of a schoolteacher who was allegedly fired for not ensuring that staff at his school attended the rally.
According to a reporter for the New Yorker, it was a bit of both:
“There were, as expected, people who had been paid to come; people who came out because of a work-place ‘initiative’; people who were less than fluent in Russian; and people who were less than sober. But there were also a lot of people who actually support Putin, either because they see no alternative to him, or because they really do like him.”
Putin has professed himself as pleasantly surprised by the strength of feeling of those who took to the streets to support him. So pleased, in fact, that he has offered to pay the fine that will be levied on the organisers for organising a rally that attracted more people than was allowed by their permit.
It will be interesting to see if Putin’s supporters will be able to keep up their momentum in the coming month – and worth remembering that half-hearted pro-Government rallies in places like Egypt have actually ended up hurting the government’s cause more than they helped.