In one of the largest protests yet against the possible return of Vladimir Putin as President, thousands of Russians braved falling snow and frigid temperatures on Saturday to form a human chain around the center of Moscow.
Standing side-by-side around the 10-mile-long Garden Ring Road, the protesters, sporting white ribbons, said they were resigned to the very likely possibility that Putin, who was President from 2000 to 2008 and is the current Prime Minister, would be elected President again. The protesters, however, were quick to say that their main goal was to make known their concerns and how widespread those concerns were. Organizers of the protest said that 40,000 people attended; police said the number was 11,000.
March 4 is the date for Russia's next presidential election. Russian laws set a president's term limit as two consecutive terms but do not set a maximum number of terms, so it is entirely possible that Putin could be elected in 2012 and re-elected, having served four terms as president in a five-term cycle.
The Moscow protest was the latest in anti-Putin protests, which have increased in numbers in recent weeks. A few thousand people gathered in St. Petersburg, Putin's home town, to deliver a similar message.
About 3,500 also demonstrated in Putin's home town, St Petersburg, on Saturday to demand his resignation. Scattered protests have taken place in cities across the country and tens of thousands have attended each of three big Moscow rallies.
Not to be outdone, Putin supporters organized their own gathering, with several thousand people attending a sports stadium rally that featured a speech by Putin himself.