MOSCOW - The center of Moscow, during today’s presidential elections, looked as if the Kremlin was preparing to fend off an invasion by an enemy army. Hundreds of huge trucks, some white, some black, with bars over the windows, blocked off street after street, surrounded the huge square in front of the Bolshoi Theatre, and barred access to Red Square; they were flanked by legions of special security police.
When I asked one policeman, in furry hat and grey uniform, what they were all doing, he replied, “ We are protecting against any provocation. We have to keep Moscow safe.” It was all in keeping with the effort by victorious candidate Vladimir Putin to portray the middle class youths who have recently mounted peaceful protest rallies, as a dangerous threat to stability – and the state itself.
Indeed, in his victory statement, as he strode in black jacket and jeans onto a stage in front of thousands of supporters in front of the Kremlin walls (bused in they had no trouble penetrating the security ring), Putin struck up the “defeat our enemies” theme. “Nobody can impose their policy on us,” he shouted. “Our people could recognize the provocation from people who want to destroy us.” My mind flashed back to an afternoon spent with young people planning to act as election observers at polling places, and I wondered if he really thought these youths were going to invade the Kremlin.
Then he dropped the punchline, saying, “The orange scenario will never work here.” His reference was to the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, in which street protesters force out a pro-Kremlin leader who had won via a rigged election. Putin is obsessed with the idea that the United States funded the Orange Revolution, and other “color” revolutions in former Soviet states, as well as the Arab Spring in Egypt. Clearly his hostile rhetoric had two targets: the tens of thousands of peaceful youths who protested rigged parliamentary elections – and will protest this skewered election on Monday – AND his favorite bogey-man, the United States.