By Richard Boudreaux and Alan Cullison
MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin had a smooth ride to the Kremlin for his inauguration as president Monday. For just about anyone else, especially the hundreds of activists who turned out in protest, the city center was an obstacle course.
Streets were closed to traffic and passengers were prevented from exiting subway stations long before Mr. Putin’s motorcade glided across town along empty streets to the midday ceremony. Anti-Putin demonstrators, who are often permitted to gather for their rallies, had difficulty coming together Monday and spent much of the time on the run from helmeted riot police. More than 100 were detained.
Opposition leaders had urged activists to gather with their traditional white ribbons an hour before the ceremony and stroll along the Boulevard Ring, which surrounds the center of Moscow and includes a small part of Mr. Putin’s motorcade route. Another group was to gather near the Kremlin at Manezhnaya Square, which had been sealed off by police the day before.
About 100 people tried to approach Manezh on Monday but were quickly surrounded by police and shoved into waiting buses. Meanwhile, police closed off a long stretch of the Boulevard Ring near Mr. Putin’s route, trapping some protesters in side streets.
Eventually the protesters regrouped, with several hundred ending up on a tree-lined promenade in the two-kilometer stretch of the Boulevard Ring between New Arbat Street and Pushkin Square. There, for several hours, they dodged and skirmished with riot police, who kept both ends of the promenade sealed off and herded the protesters back and forth.
Police made occasional forays into the crowd to haul protesters to waiting buses that lined the boulevard. Several protesters were beaten with clubs. Male detainees between ages 18 and 27 were being given draft notices to report for army duty, Interfax news agency reported.
About 10 minutes before Mr. Putin’s motorcade passed on Arbat Street, police swept through a sidewalk cafe about 100 meters away, overturning tables and seizing Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and prominent opposition leader. Mr. Nemtsov had just taken a seat after speaking to reporters near the cafe. “We came out today to show there are many people who are not afraid of this man who has usurped power,” he said. “But he is afraid of his own people. Look how he has fenced off the city.”
Later, in a phone interview from detention at a police station, Mr. Nemtsov said the police had clubbed him hard several times on the back and ripped his t-shirt as they dragged him from the cafe. Of the dozens of times he’s been grabbed by police over the years, he said, this was the first time he’d been beaten. “They wanted all the opposition leaders in jail for Putin’s first day in the Kremlin,” he said.
Dozens of counter-demonstrators from pro-Kremlin youth groups also plied the promenade, handing out red-white-and-blue ribbons and holding up heart-shaped signs saying “Putin loves everyone.”
At one point, the pro- and anti-Putin crowds came face to face and screamed at each other for about 15 minutes. White-beribboned protesters shouted “Putin loves only money!” They grabbed pro-Putin signs and ripped them to pieces. The Putin supporters, vastly outnumbered, didn’t strike back but stood their ground. “They just can’t accept that Putin won the election,” said Pavel Zasova, a 20-year-old student in the pro-Putin group, gloating “We won! We won!” as the protesters moved on.
Most of the anti-Putin protesters who came out Monday were still reeling from the violent police crackdown on a much larger demonstration the day before. “People are angrier because of the brute force the police used yesterday,” said Sergei Pantsirev, a 43-year-old software company owner who joined the demonstrations both days. “And people are getting frustrated at the lack of results from peaceful protests.”
“There’s a mood in favor of more forceful protest,” he added. “But today we seem to have no coordination, no leadership. Today everything is spontaneous.”
About the pro-Kremlin activists in their midst, Mr. Pantsirev said: “They pop up everywhere we go. We’re getting used to it.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.
In Moscow, Police Keep Protesters on the Run (3)