Supporters of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are to hold a public rally for up to 200,000 in the streets of Moscow on February 23, in what would be the biggest political demonstration in the last two decades, according to RIA Novosti.
The event is to include a march through the downtown Tverskaya Ulitsa and a rally on Manezh Square by the Kremlin walls, said Alexei Anisimov, deputy head of Putin’s campaign staff for the upcoming presidential elections on March 4, in which the prime minister is the favorite.
The rally will be organized jointly by Putin’s campaign staff and the All-Russia People’s Front, an unofficial organization affiliated with Putin’s political party, United Russia, which won the State Duma elections in December, Anisimov said.
Tens of thousands came to three opposition rallies in Moscow, to protest alleged widespread vote fraud in the Duma elections in December. The rallies were the biggest protests in Russia since President Yeltsin sent the army into Parliament in 1993.
Putin’s supporters countered the latest opposition rally on February 4 with their own event elsewhere in Moscow. Police said they numbered 140,000 compared to 36,000 at the protest rally, though the opposition claimed to have brought out 120,000 onto the streets. A geodesic estimate by Moskovskie Novosti daily showed 80,000 rallied for Putin and 62,000 against him.
The pro-government rally on February 4 was marred by widespread allegations of state employees being coerced or forced to attend. Putin conceded it to be partly true, but said “administrative resource” was not a major factor in ensuring the turnout.
A follow-up to the opposition rally is tentatively scheduled for February 26.