MOSCOW -- According to Russian police, more than 100,000 people attended a rally
in Moscow in support of Vladimir Putin's presidential bid -- a rare level of attendance even for the powerful leader.
Many participants at the rally genuinely praised his performance, first as president between 2000 and 2008 and since then as prime minister.
There is virtually no doubt Putin will win the poll on March 4, taking over from his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, who, in a controversial job switch, is slated to become prime minister.
Yet, Putin's campaign managers appear to have gone to great lengths to make sure Russians turned up en masse at the rally on February 23.
The first indication came early in the morning when some 700 pro-Putin demonstrators, many of them factory workers, got off a train from the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. They were immediately taken by bus to the site of the rally.
Officially, factory workers from the Yekaterinburg region pitched in to fund the trip.
A First-Class Jaunt
A reporter for the Russian news website Gazeta.ru, however, said none of those she interviewed on the train -- where the workers traveled first-class and were served hot meals -- had paid for their ticket.
Additionally, many companies, trade unions, and state-funded structures have encouraged -- in some cases ordered -- their members or employees to attend the pro-Putin rally.
The Moscow Finance and Law Academy is one of them.
In a message dated February 20, Rector Aleksei Zabelin instructed all lecturers to go to the demonstration and ordered the school's department heads to report to him on the teachers' attendance.
"The teachers who refuse to go to the demonstration have to write explanatory letters," one student told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity. "Many of them are taking sick days in order not to attend the event."
She said students had even received SMS text messages on their mobile phones urging them to join the rally.
The Internet has also been flush with claims that some demonstrators were paid to attend.
WATCH: RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to supporters of Vladimir Putin as they arrived by train in Moscow on February 23 to attend a massive demonstration in support of the prime minister.
While most supporters readily heaped praised on Putin, many appeared ill-at-ease
when asked why they had chosen to attend the demonstration.
But there were also people such as Aleksei Gladkikh, who told RFE/RL he had come all the way from Belgorod, more than 650 kilometers from Moscow, to voice his support for Putin.
Clutching regional flags in driving snow, the 29-year-old admitted the bus trip had been organized but insisted that he had paid for the ticket himself.
He described himself vaguely as a private entrepreneur.
A group of Central Asian workers also told RFE/RL they had been bused in from a construction site in the capital.
They declined to identify their workplace, joking that they would be "shot" if someone found out they had spoken to a journalist.
Meanwhile, Moscow police have reportedly detained dozens of Uzbek migrant workers over allegations that they were offering 600 rubles (around $20) to fellow Uzbeks to attend the pro-Putin rally.
One of the detained migrants was allegedly carrying a placard reading: "We were brought here by shipping invoice."
With reporting from RFE/RL's Russian Service