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Russian Opposition To Take Anti-Putin Protest To The Streets

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin inspects a Tiger armored military jeep near Sverdlovsk in December 2008.
(RFE/RL) -- Supporters of an online petition calling for the removal of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plan to stage an unsanctioned rally this evening in Moscow under the slogan "Putin Must Go."

The effort comes despite the fact that the country's powerful head of government and ex-president remains nearly as popular with the public as ever.

The petition, which appeared on the Internet on March 10, contains a blistering indictment of Putin's 10-year rule in Russia and has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.

Among those who have attached their names to the call for Putin's removal are former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, and prominent human rights activists Yelena Bonner, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, and Lev Ponomaryov.

Nemtsov told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the opposition must move from empty slogans to naming those responsible for what they see as the worsening situation in Russia.

"We want honest elections in this country. We want political competition in this country. We want the country to have a parliament where discussions take place. And we want the authorities changed," Nemtsov said. "I think that protest actions will increase and they will continue to increase regardless of what kinds of letters are sent wherever."

Moscow-based political analyst Aleksei Makarkin thinks the radical opposition's focus on Putin is a mistaken strategy.

"Look at any sociological survey -- whether it was carried out by VTsIOM or FOM or the Levada Center -- the results are all similar: The confidence rating [of the government] is high," Makarkin says. "Russians are afraid of change. Russians want the current prime minister to remain. They have complaints about bureaucrats, but most of them do not want the head of the government fired."

Makarkin adds that the opposition's strategy seems to rely on the hope that public confidence in Putin will decline. Further, he says, by bringing the question of Putin's dismissal into the general realm of public discourse, the opposition hopes to accelerate that decline.

On March 16, St. Petersburg-based writer Nikolai Starikov posted his own online petition in support of Putin. That petition has garnered about 3,000 names so far. Starikov's site asserts that it is an attempt to offer Russians a choice and asserts that the anti-Putin petition was created by people who idolize Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin -- "two people who destroyed the USSR-Russia" -- and who hate Stalin, who "made the country a great power and saved the world from fascism."

A Levada Center poll conducted last month found that 46 percent of respondents believe Russia needs "a single, centralized state with the heads of local governments appointed from the center."

The same poll found that 62 percent of Russians "rely on themselves and seek to avoid contact with the authorities" and 77 percent do not intend to increase their level of political activity.

written by Robert Coalson with contributions from RFE/RL's Russian Service

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