Speakers at the rival pro-government rally in Moscow on Saturday lambasted the opposition, which held a parallel protest event elsewhere in the city, for plotting a revolution in the interests of Western powers.
“We say no to the destruction of Russia. We say no to Orange arrogance. We say no to the American government…let’s take out the Orange trash,” political analyst Sergei Kurginyan said at the rally by Moscow’s Poklonnaya Gora memorial, which he co-organized.
Police said between 90,000 and to 160,000 attended the event in support of Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, compared to 35,000 at the opposition rally on Bolotnaya Ploshchad, whose organizers estimated attendance at 100,000.
According to estimates by a RIA Novosti correspondent on the scene, however, the attendance rate seemed far lower than the police figures. The participants seemed to be generally older than the typical crowd at the opposition rally. Many were pensioners, and some were state employees, though handfuls of youths also mingled throughout the crowd.
Speakers at Poklonnaya Gora said their opponents intend to overthrow Putin through public protests, like during Ukraine’s “Orange revolution” in 2004. They also insist protesters at Bolotnaya Ploshchad are acting in the interest of the United States, whose ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, met with rally organizers in January.
Participants of the two rallies “have nothing to discuss with each other,” political analyst Nikolai Starikov said at the rally.
Writer Eduard Bagirov, a member of Putin’s campaign staff, denounced participants of the rival rally as “good-for-nothing slackers” and told the attendants that Putin passed his greetings.
Putin and other senior officials also warned about a foreign influence in Russian protests and cautioned against a possible revolution, though also conceded the protests were peaceful and mostly driven by grassroots activism.
After the speeches, a largely jovial atmosphere descended onto the square, where a concert featuring various Russian folk songs provoked some to break out into song and dance. Other participants roamed about with Russian tri-color flags, banners and placards – some featuring phrases such as “We don’t want a return to the ‘90s!” and “Volodya Forever!”
Also present was South Ossetian presidential hopeful Dzhambulat Tedeyev, who told RIA Novosti that he continues to stand behind the current Russian government.
“I remember how in 2008, when [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia. Who did we have to thank for saving us?” he said, referring to a brief military conflict between Russian and Georgia in August 2008.
“We had Putin and Medvedev to thank. Today, we have made ourselves heard, and that’s why we have only one position: we will vote for Putin,” he said. Most residents of South Ossetia, recognized by Moscow as an independent state in 2008, have Russian passports.
The area around Poklonnaya Gora memorial park was swamped for hours with participants flooding in and out of the pro-government demonstration. Also parked nearby the venue were scores of coach buses, many of which have been used during similar demonstrations to bus supporters into the city from outside Moscow.
The rally lasted slightly over an hour and wrapped up shortly after 2 p.m. without incidents. Police said the organizers would be fined for exceeding the officially sanctioned attendance limit of 15,000.
Media and bloggers reported many of those who came to Poklonnaya Gora were state employees forced to attend but organizers and authorities denied the accusations.