A city official recruited and provided a bus for a small organization of retired women in southeast Moscow. University students in Ingushetia, in the North Caucasus, rode for 27 hours to reach Moscow. Private employers handed out city bus passes to their workers. Teachers from local universities ticked off the names of their students as they arrived.
The army set up field kitchens to disburse food and beverages. So did the ministry of emergency situations. The Moscow schools food service program delivered rations in its trucks.
Military police directed traffic. Banners were handed out to people who didn’t always know what they stood for. All this was in contrast to the opposition demonstrations of earlier weeks — as was the trash that Thursday’s attendees left behind.
But being recruited, pressured or forced to attend did not appear to translate into a lack of genuine support for Putin. “Stability,” agreed the retired women, was what they approve of in Putin. They, like many others, chose not to give their names — also in contrast to the opposition protesters.
“Everything will be great; Ingushetia is for Putin,” said Uruskhan Galayev, a 20-year-old student, who was clearly enjoying the chance to have an outing with his friends.
“At this point in time, it’s better to have a president with experience and who has already dealt with crises,” said Sergei Grigorin, a 54-year-old retired veteran. Besides, he added, “none of the other candidates has a chance of winning the election.”
That, in fact, has been one of the main opposition complaints against Putin. He has apparently decided that he must win more than 50 percent of the vote, to avoid a second round. So a government-controlled polling agency now reports that he is in line to win 58.6 percent of the vote, after steady improvement all winter. That could be an actual reflection of his standing — or it could be the response to an order from on high. Reports of widespread fraud in December’s parliamentary elections have generated a large degree of suspicion here over officially reported numbers.
Pressure against the few remnants of a free press has been stepped up. The government moved to take firmer control of Ekho Moskvy, an insouciant radio station; security agents raided the bank of Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire and former KGB agent who provides financial support for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which said it would have to suspend staff salaries for a month; and prosecutors questioned a lively Internet TV station, called Dozhd, as to whether it receives financing from American sources.