March 4, 2012 6:42 pm
Russian elections were once a festive occasion, with loudspeakers set up outside polling stations playing folk music. But central Moscow on Sunday had the air of a city under siege.
Hundreds of police in dark grey padded jackets and interior ministry troops, some in camouflage fatigues, ringed and blocked access to the city’s main central squares. A white and blue police helicopter circled overhead.
The ostensible reason was to ensure security for a concert on Manezh Square by the Kremlin walls, due to start once polling stations closed, in a city that has seen several terrorist attacks in recent years.
But the show of force seemed designed also to intimidate opposition marchers who plan a big demonstration on Monday night, and have talked of setting up camps in the city centre to protest against the election results.
Hundreds of airport-style security arches were set up on Manezh and neighbouring Theatre square, to screen those due to attend the concert later. Scores of buses and army trucks were parked.
On streets leading past the famed Bolshoi Theatre, recently reopened after a refurbishment costing hundreds of millions of dollars, were rows of flat-bed trucks covered by khaki tarpaulins and bearing signs saying “People”. The corner of one, lifted momentarily to allow those inside to peer out, revealed yet more interior ministry troops sheltering from the light snow on two rows of benches.
On the pavements and in underpasses, police and Omon troops walked in columns sometimes three-deep. Outside the state Duma, the lower house of parliament to which disputed elections sparked the first opposition demonstrations in December, troops carried sub-machine guns.
Natalya, a teacher from the Moscow suburbs, stood in confusion in front of the Bolshoi, saying she had come into town to meet a friend. “But I can’t get through to where I need to go. So this is democracy - this is what elections mean.”
At a polling station just off nearby Tsvetnoi Boulevard, voters seemed unperturbed. “I voted for Prokhorov,” said one middle-aged woman who had voted with her husband, referring to the billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. “He’s someone new, he’s got the potential to do something.”
But Anna, a law student at Moscow State University, said that although she was voting for the first time she had plumped for Vladimir Putin. “What other choice is there?” she said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.