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russia's winter of discontent

After Russia's dubious Duma elections, held amid reports of major electoral fraud, Russians have taken to the streets of all major Russian cities to show their anger. Cracks have even begun to appear in Putin's carefully orchestrated public image For the first time in his rule, Putin has been subjected to the genuine feelings of the people. On the 18th of November Putin appeared at a Mixed Martial Arts fight in Moscow of Russia's Fedor Yemelianenko and his American opponent Jeff Monson. As the prime minister came on stage to share in the victory of the Russian fighter the audience had started to jeer him, whistling and booing. Putin was stunned by that reaction. His supporters later claimed that the booing was for Mr Monson leaving the ring. This explanation doesn't wash however- the booing happened as Putin was giving speech. Russia's state TV layer edited out the booing and inserted cheering in its place.

Despite the vote-stuffing and ballot-rigging, Putin and Medvedev's party, United Russia, has lost a significant number of seats in parliament. Its weak majority means it needs to ally with other parties to change constitutional matters. The rest of the votes have gone to the (Confused) Communist Party of Russia (their main objectives are to get tough on illegal immigration and introduce ethnic stamps in passports), loony right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (L.D.P.R.) and a centre-right Fair Russia party. 

As far a voting goes, the Communists play on Soviet nostalgia and their supporters mainly come from the country's elderly demographic. The Fair Russia party and the L.D.P.R. have supported the current regime on a number of issues. The electorate are restricted to vote for parties which are essentially the same, so the way to show dissatisfaction with Putin is to vote for a largely identical party with some other dude at the front, the closest there is to a protest vote against Putin.

The government is not tolerating any outbreaks of demonstrations- they've shown time and time again that their definition of democracy is a (rigged) vote every four years for the dictator of choice. Moscow and St. Petersburg have already witnessed major police brutality and mass arrests, and any future demonstrations will see the same response. On the 5th of November ten thousand protesters have come to Chistye Prudy to hear the speeches of the opposition. After the demo three hundred were arrested, and two hundred fifty of them were in police stations until the morning. A number of alleged opposition leaders were also arrested.

Russian people have plenty of reasons not to be happy with the current regime. Corruption, distrust in politicians, distrust in police, pseudo-pension reforms, unwillingness to deal with discrimination of ethnic and sexual minorities, lack of independent media , a corrupt court system, privatisation of the public sector, human rights abuses, the appointing of regional heads as opposed to electing them, and ongoing instability in the Caucasus region, to name but a few.

The western governments couldn't care less about the plight of Russians. As long as there is a constant supply of cheap fossil fuels going their direction the West's pretence of caring for democracy in the world is limited to the occasional random comment about the lack of freedom in Russia.

 After the chaos of neo-liberal 'freedom' many, perhaps most, Russians are against Western intervention in their affairs and prefer to see a strong Stalin-like figure (i.e. Putin) defending them against the West.

Further demonstrations against the fraudulent elections are planned in Moscow at Ploshhad' Revolucii (Revolution Square) situated on the northern side of the Kremlin this Saturday at 2pm. Organisers are expecting thousands to attend. Just like their repressive brethren the NYPD did in Zucotti Park, Moscow authorities decided to close the square for "refurbishment" and suggested a different location of Bolotnaya Ploshhad' (Swamp Square) which is situated on an island across the river from the Kremlin. They have "allowed" for a 30 000 strong demo out of harms way in a location tailor-made for kettling. Fearing violence, opposition leaders went along with the Moscow authorities. Moscow's vice-mayor has told citizens that the authorities don't plan on arresting anyone during the demo on the Bolotnaya sq. We'll see.

There is a number of demonstrations planned to take across the whole of Russia, from the Volga to Vladivostok. With the March presidential elections coming ever closer, Putin and his cronies no longer see the elections as a done deal, and will have to pull every trick out of their old KGB manuals if they want to engineer a victory at the polls. Meanwhile, for ordinary Russians, the struggle continues.

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