“The dropping of his popularity is a signal to regional leaders that they can act more freely,” Urnov said, suggesting dangerous possibilities in a country that relies on Putin’s power for stability.
The Internet ferment has drawn in young voters, considered until now an apathetic generation, and government policies have been alienating them. Indira Valeyeva, a 21-year-old student at Moscow State University from the city of Ufa, said students have always been automatically registered to vote when their Moscow residency was recorded. This year, the policy was changed with little publicity.
Critics of Russia's government were making good use of the internet ahead of elections set for Sunday. Still, voters are expected to return a parliamentary majority for United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. (Dec. 2)
When she went to register Wednesday, the line was so long that she was not registered when the office closed, and the students were told to leave.
“At first, I didn’t want to vote,” she said. “I heard everyone saying, ‘Why vote when we can’t change anything.’ But I began thinking that if we all stay away, it’s certain nothing will change.”
Her change of heart began in September. “They made it clear they didn’t respect our opinions,” Valeyeva said, “and it made us want to do something.”
Critics of the authorities fear that roadblocks are being put in the way of students so their votes can be stolen, among a host of other potential violations. On Friday night, Golos officials said they expected to be watching Sunday, despite the rigorous campaign against them.
The main evidence against them came from Vladimir Churov, head of the Central Election Commission, who complained that the violations Golos was reporting mostly centered on United Russia, which would create a negative impression of the party.
Churov once told a newspaper that his first rule was “Putin is always right.”
Within an hour after the court decision, the NTV channel owned by a Putin ally broadcast a smear against Golos, using images of suitcases stuffed with hundred-dollar bills to illustrate its accusation that the United States was paying Golos to distort the election.
Despite all the emotion, observers say United Russia will prevail and the streets will remain free of angry protest.
“The limits of dissatisfaction have not yet been reached,” Kozyrev said. “There are no political forces or leaders capable of using it.”