In about three months, Russians will go to the polls to elect their president. And while there is little doubt who the winner will be, there nevertheless is the need -- at least in the eyes of Western observers -- for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to validate to his people that the election process and reforms are on the way.
The final day of 2011 did not offer any hope. The Washington Post reports that at least 60 people were arrested as they tried to voice their support for one of Mr. Putin's rivals.
Police prevented protesters organized by a radical leftist leader from gathering in central Moscow on New Year’s Eve, as a year that brought dramatic and unexpected change to Russia drew to a close.
EuroNews notes that many of the arrests took place as protesters tried to exit a Metro station.
About 200 people converged on Triumfalnaya Square in the early evening darkness, perhaps half of them journalists, for a rally organized by Eduard Limonov in support of freedom of assembly.
Putin on Saturday wished well-being and prosperity "to all our citizens regardless of their political persuasion, including those who sympathize with leftist forces and those situated on the right, below, above, however you like." In Russian, the sexual innuendo was clear.
Putin often uses crude language, especially when speaking derisively of his critics. His tough talk and the street slang that peppers his speeches have helped build his image as a man of the people.
Mr. Putin had indicated just a couple days ago that he was prepared to talk to political groups that differ with him. But he added that he wasn't sure there was a legitimate opposition figure he could identify.His sarcasm toward the protesters backfired recently when he said the white ribbons they wear as an emblem looked like condoms. The protesters took their revenge at the next mass demonstration, where they held up a poster of Putin with his head wrapped in a scarf-like condom and another showing Putin and a condom with the words: "Attention! Not for re-use."
What are the possibilities if the opposition unifies around one person?