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Russian 'Patriot' Rally Falls A Few Letters Short, Despite Claims To Contrary

The flash mob gathered only enough supporters to form a single character. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov)

A state-run Russian television channel appears to have been caught dramatically inflating the number of participants in a "patriotic" flash mob.

Bloggers posted images showing that the Moscow rally on October 11, aimed at forming "I Am A Patriot" in human letters, only gathered enough people for a single character.

State-run television channel Moscow 24 reported, however, that the "mass rally" attracted "several thousand" enthusiastic Russians for the proud display of national loyalty.

It described attendees brandishing Russian flags and matching white, blue, and red balloons lined up on a square to form the words "I Am A Patriot" in giant letters. (The report, initially available on the Moscow 24 website, appears to have been pulled down around midday on October 12, but you can see a screen capture of it here:

But eyewitnesses tell a far different story.

Blogger and photojournalist Anton Belitsky chided @infomoscow24, saying, "[T]here weren't even 100 people there, shame on you!"

"Has Moscow run out of patriots?" prominent photoblogger Ilya Varlamov, who had also come to witness the flash mob, railed on his website.

To illustrate his point, Varlamov posted a series of pictures showing lonely participants waving Russian flags on a mostly empty square:

Instead of the thousands trumpeted by Moscow 24, Varlamov said the rally drew only a handful of people despite organizers' efforts to entice passersby.

"The event was interesting in the sense that organizers decided to gather passersby who cared instead of busing in people," he wrote, referring to a scheme authorities are commonly accused of using to boost attendance at pro-government rallies. "Unfortunately, passersby showed no interest in the patriotic event and flatly refused to participate."

The flash mob was organized by Phoenix, a little-known youth group that claims to have no political affiliations.

In an ad posted on the social-networking site VKontakte in September, the group outlined the goals of the rally -- "consolidation of patriotic moods among the masses" and "popularization of the proud titled 'Patriot of Russia.'"

"On the backdrop of the complex geopolitical situation in the world, we are witnessing a rapid and steady revival of the common idea at all cultural levels of society in our country," the group added.

The "Patriot" page boasted just 72 VKontakte members on October 12.

Judging from Varlamov's pictures, few Muscovites felt sufficiently inspired to stand in the cold on chalk-marked letters.

"The event was postponed to 17:00, then by another half hour," wrote Varlamov. One and a half hours after the planned start, he said, there were "only enough people for the letter P."

"It looks like the media were paid," he concluded, "but there was no money left for the crowd scene."