In Moscow, tens of thousands turn out to protest Russian intervention in Ukraine

Thousands marched for and against Russia's policies a day before the referendum in Crimea on whether to join Russia. (Reuters)
March 15

Opposition to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine sparked an unexpectedly large protest march here Saturday, as tens of thousands of demonstrators waving Ukrainian, Russian and European Union flags chanted “No war!” and “Russia without Putin.”

They wore armbands and ribbons in the Ukrainian colors of blue and yellow, ribbons in Russia’s white, blue and red, and the plain white ribbons that were a hallmark of the large rallies against President Vladimir Putin that blossomed and then faltered in 2012.

Saturday’s protest revived many of the slogans and attitudes that first arose on the streets two years ago. But several of the opposition leaders of 2012 — including Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov — were missing, both under house arrest.

Members of the punk group Pussy Riot, released from prison earlier this year, did make an appearance.

Protesters also focused on the recent Kremlin crackdown on the remnants of a free press here, which they see as an issue related to the moves against Ukraine. As if to underscore their point, the Russian wire services quoted police as saying 3,000 people had taken part in the rally — which was nowhere near reality.

Crowds walked from Pushkin Square to Sakharov Prospekt, which they filled. Dozhd TV, an independent channel that earned the Kremlin’s ire and now faces closure, put the number at 50,000. Organizers said 70,000 had come out.

“This is to show Ukrainian citizens our solidarity, so they will see there is another Russia, a Russia that doesn’t want war,” said Maria Lobanova, 30, who had come to the rally with her father, husband and two sons, ages 4 and 1.

“I don’t understand why Europe and the United States talk about sanctions so much but don’t do anything about them,” she said.

Lobanova said she would welcome an economic crackdown by the West against Russia.

“Sanctions,” she said, “would be a purification.”

One marcher carried an icon. Another had a cardboard dove. A sign made fun of Sergei Aksyonov, the newly installed head of the Crimean regional government, who is said to have connections to organized crime and is known as the Goblin.

“Goblin for Russia — Hooray!” it said.

“Crimea is ours. Give us Alaska,” said another, tongue in cheek.

“No blood. No tears. We don’t need any more,” read a third.

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