- - Sunday, September 16, 2012

MOSCOW — Tens of thousands of protesters streamed into downtown Moscow on Saturday for a rally that showed the resilience of their anti-Putin movement but failed to provide any clear indication of a long-term plan to dislodge their archnemesis from the Kremlin.

“We cannot live without freedom,” opposition leader Alexei Navalny proclaimed at the rally. “No one else will free us but ourselves. Hope and stubbornness will bring us victory.”

Protesters chanting “We are the power” and “Putin is a thief” earlier marched nearly two miles through the center of the Russian capital as a police helicopter hovered and security forces watched.

Estimates of crowd size varied from a police figure of 14,000 to more than 100,000 from organizers. Police traditionally have vastly underestimated numbers at anti-Kremlin rallies.

Left Front movement leader Sergei Udaltsov was detained briefly at the end of the rally after urging protesters to organize another “Maidan,” a reference to the Kiev square occupation by Ukrainian demonstrators during the 2004 uprising in the former Soviet republic. Three other people were taken into custody with Mr. Udaltsov, police said.

But the rally was largely peaceful, with none of the violence that marked a protest in central Moscow on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s May 7 inauguration for a third presidential term.

“Today’s rally confirmed the status quo,” Mr. Udaltsov said after he was released. “The protests are not declining, but the authorities continue to ignore us. It’s a deadlock.”

Unprecedented protests against Mr. Putin’s rule broke out in Moscow in December after disputed parliamentary elections, but the opposition remains an uneasy alliance of democrats, nationalists and leftist forces. The leaders of the country’s oldest liberal party, Yabloko, stayed away from Saturday’s march in protest over the involvement of leftist and right-wing movements.

Although left- and right-wing forces were well-represented at the protest, large numbers of demonstrators belong to no political party or movement.

“I’m here because I can’t simply sit at home while thieves plunder my country,” said Stanislav Rostov, 34, a computer consultant. “We have no choice. We have to keep coming out onto the streets.”

Other protesters mocked a publicity stunt in which Mr. Putin flew a motorized hang glider to encourage a flock of bred-in-captivity Siberian white cranes to fly south for the winter. “We are not your cranes,” one placard read.

The protest was held despite what opposition figures say is a systematic crackdown on dissent.

The government has increased fines from $3 to $300 for taking part in illegal protests. It raised the penalty for injuring people or causing property damage at any rally from about $600 to $9,000. The average Russian makes about $9,000 a year.

Mr. Navalny, the opposition’s de facto leader, also faces 10 years in prison on large-scale embezzlement charges that he has called absurd. The case, dating from 2009, already has been investigated twice without charges being filed.

Last month, three women from an anti-Putin punk-rock group received two-year sentences for a protest in Moscow’s largest cathedral. Another opposition activist, Taisia Osipova, was sentenced last month to eight years in prison on drug charges that she said were revenge for her refusal to testify against her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, a leader of the radical Other Russia movement.

Story Continues →