Despite Thursday being a national holiday, supporters of prime minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin crowded several downtown stations of the Moscow metro ahead of a rally in his support.
Metro trains on the Red Line failed to accommodate all passengers, many of whom were heading to the Frunzenskaya station in organized groups. They were herded by leaders, some of whom carried and checked lists, although it was unclear what they were for.
City Hall authorized a march of 40,000 people for some 3 kilometers from Frunzenskaya station to Luzhniki stadium in downtown Moscow, where a rally of 100,000 supporters will take place. The march starts at 11:30 a.m.
Bus cavalcades heading toward Frunzenskaya could be seen on the Garden Ring road, along which several riot police trucks lined up.
Police held open the metro entrances at Frunzenskaya station and were shepherding the crowd past 50 metal detectors and to the dozens of kiosks offering refreshments.
Putin supporters were also beginning to throng by the Sportivnaya metro station, which serves the Luzhniki stadium, some two hours ahead of the event.
Critics have accused the authorities of forcing or coercing state employees from Moscow and other regions to attend the pro-Putin rally in the run-up to the event, which has been organized to support his bid for the presidential elections on March 4. Putin’s campaign staff has denied the allegations.
A round of rallies by the Communists and the Liberal Democrats, both of whom are fielding their own candidates for the Kremlin vote, took place in the far eastern part of Russia, including Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, however, turnout stood in the dozens for each event on Thursday, which is Defender of the Fatherland Day.