Russia: Putin's Return as President

On May 6, the day before Vladimir Putin's inauguration, tens of thousands of protesters marched through the center of Moscow. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

A police helicopter flies over an anti-Putin protest march. Earlier in the winter, the authorities appeared to tolerate large-scale anti-government protests; some wonder, however, if their patience is now waning. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

Photographers at the latest anti-Putin protest on May 6. After Putin's victory in the March elections many expected the protest movement to lose followers as well as momentum. Yet, the day before Putin's inauguration, tens of thousands of people took part in the protest . Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

Russian police guard a bridge that leads to the Kremlin. A standoff between demonstrators and the authorities at a protest on May 6 became violent, with hundreds arrested and dozens injured, including police. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

Alexei Navalny, perhaps the most popular of Russia's opposition figures, talks with young people who had gathered in a public square in Moscow the night before Putin's inauguration. These nighttime "strolls" took place during a week of protest walks and gatherings. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

Communists march in Moscow's May 9 parade, which commemorates the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. This year, cries of "Russia Without Putin" could be heard among the traditional wartime slogans. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

On May 13, a group of writers and journalists organized a mass walk through the streets of Moscow, in a form of non-political public demonstration. More than 10,000 people participated. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

A group of women at the May 13 walk. On the left, the woman's sign reads, "I Am Walking Around Moscow," the title of a famous 1963 Soviet-era film. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

The day's program at "Occupy Abay," a weeklong sit-in named for the statue of a 19th-century Kazakh poet, situated at the center of the camp. The program included sessions on labor rights, the trial of the punk group Pussy Riot, and lessons from Tahrir Square. Image by Joshua Yaffa. Russia, 2012.

The election victory of Vladimir Putin in March was meant to signal the end, or at least the transition, of Russia’s protest movement. Organizers talked of smaller and less frequent large-scale demonstrations, and instead of more focused work, such as following through on particular lawsuits against the state or sending election monitors to watch the vote at certain local races. To a large extent, that’s happened: No protest has matched the 100,000-strong crowd from this winter, and politics have taken on new life in the regions and cities.

That said, demonstrations in the streets of Moscow have lasted longer and with greater numbers than many predicted. Both Putin supporters and detractors expected that a so-called “March of Millions” on May 6, the day before Putin’s inauguration, would draw a conspicuously small crowd. Instead, tens of thousands turned out. But this protest, unlike those in the winter, turned chaotic and violent. A standoff between demonstrators and the police led to clashes that left hundreds arrested and dozens injured. It appeared that the protest movement had taken a darker, perhaps uncontrollable turn: The protesters could become more radical, the police less patient and quicker to use force.

The next day, when Putin again took office as Russian president, the streets were largely empty. The police had cleared the center of Moscow of nearly everyone, protesters and supporters alike. But they would not stay that way for long: In what would soon become called “people’s strolls,” groups of people—as few as a hundred, as many as a couple thousand—began taking walks around Moscow’s cities and squares. These are overtly non-political affairs, though the political subtext is clear: the desire to be out in the center of the capital with like-minded fellow citizens was message enough. An Occupy-style camp has formed at Chistye Prudy Park, which has become something of a headquarters for Moscow’s ad-hoc, almost ephemeral protest movement. Two important questions loom—one, how long the Kremlin will tolerate the camp in the center of Moscow, and two, what practical effect it may have on the Russian government, now taking shape under Putin’s new term.