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Russia In Turmoil45:24
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Riots in Russia after an apparently rigged elections. We’ll go straight to Moscow and ask: is the Putin freight train going off the rails?

Opposition demonstrators hold a poster reading "Give back the elections, rascals" during protests against alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections in Triumphal Square in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011. Police clashed Tuesday on a central Moscow square with demonstrators trying to hold a second day of protests against alleged vote fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections. Hundreds of police had blocked off Triumphal Square on Tuesday evening, then began chasing about 100 demonstrators, seizing some and throwing them harshly into police vehicles. (AP)
Opposition demonstrators hold a poster reading "Give back the elections, rascals" during protests against alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections in Triumphal Square in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011. Police clashed Tuesday on a central Moscow square with demonstrators trying to hold a second day of protests against alleged vote fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections. Hundreds of police had blocked off Triumphal Square on Tuesday evening, then began chasing about 100 demonstrators, seizing some and throwing them harshly into police vehicles. (AP)

Last month, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin was lustily booed at a Moscow wrestling match – a very rare development - and the world wondered what was going on. This week, the protests are much bigger than boos.

Russian parliamentary elections last Sunday were widely seen as grossly rigged. Big, angry crowds have been out in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, roaring over what they’re calling Putin’s “party of crooks and thieves.” Fifty thousand Russian police and troops, out in response.

This hour, On Point: Putin’s Russia is taking to the streets.
-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Tanya Lokshina, senior researcher for Russia, Human Rights Watch.

Julia Ioffe, Moscow correspondent for the New Yorker and Foreign Policy magazine.

Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, History at New York University. He's the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War.

Higlights

When middle class Russians have the guts to take to the streets and protest against the Kremlin, veterans watchers of that country say that a profound shift is under way. “The Russian people are sick of being treated like cattle,” said Tanya Lukshina, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch based in Moscow. She said that the government has mistreated protestsers, angry at the results of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

But it is the nature of those protests, which began this week and are scheduled to resume in force on Saturday, which has generated the most interest. In the past, street demonstrations in Moscow have been pensioners from the Soviet era, calling for a return to Communism. Now, it’s young people and those from the middle class. “These are people who have not been engaged in politics beyond the kitchen table or the bar,” said Julia Ioffe, a Moscow correspondent for the New Yorker and Foreign Policy magazines.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin still has remarkably high approval ratings, “because he’s scorched and burned all political opposition” that could challenge him, Ioffe said. That said, the demonstrations and the setback for his Untied Russia party at the polls will make his path back to power all the more difficult, she said.

Others disagree. “How is it possible that this was a blatantly rigged election, and yet the Kremlin, that presumably did the rigging, its party lost 15 percent of its vote and its constitutional majority in the parliament. Those pieces don’t fit,” said Stephen Cohen, an expert on Russia at New York University.

“I don’t think that the street protests are all that important. These elections were the least rigged elections in more than a decade,” Cohen said. “That’s an important step forward for Russia.”

From Tom's Reading List

The New Yorker "The problem for Putin’s government is that, unlike the other two hundred and ninety-nine or so people arrested, Navalny is as close to a real celebrity as the Russian opposition has."


Foreign Policy
"On Monday night, 24 hours after the polls closed in Russia's parliamentary elections and United Russia claimed victory with 49 percent of the vote, some 6,000 young Russians stood out in the cold rain in the park at Chistye Prudy voicing their dissatisfaction. "Putin is a thief!" and "Russia without United Russia!" they shouted, teasing the once-and-future president by calling him Mr. Botox."

The New York Times "Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that they, too, had observed blatant fraud, including the brazen stuffing of ballot boxes. While the monitors declined to draw firm conclusions, it was clear from their report that vote stealing and other alleged malfeasance might have spared the presumed beneficiary, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s United Russia, an even worse blow than it officially received."

This program aired on December 8, 2011.

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