Rallies in support of and against a possible military operation in Ukraine were held in several Russian cities yesterday. Rallies of those who oppose a military intervention in Crimea ended with arrests, while "anti-Maidan" marches proceeded unhindered.
On Sunday, March 2, rallies were held in Moscow both for and against a military campaign in Ukraine. Those who were opposed to a military operation gathered outside the Defence Ministry building and in Manezhnaya Square in central Moscow.
The anti-war rally had not been sanctioned by the city authorities. Calls to attend it began to spread via social network sites soon after the Federation Council, sitting on the previous day, had granted President Putin's request to use Russian troops in Ukraine.
A girl was one of the first to come to the anti-war rally outside the Defence Ministry and she appealed to one of the riot policemen at the scene: "You know, I am afraid that my brother will go and fight against Ukraine. Why send troops there?"
Some 40 minutes after the rally started, dozens of people had already been detained and police later reported 40 in total. The protesters put up no resistance, they just kept chanting: "No to war!" Another anti-war rally was held in Manezhnaya Square, where police reported that 50 protesters were detained.
The rally in support of Russians in Ukraine was attended by representatives of various youth and patriotic organisations. The main slogans here were: "Putin, I'm with you!", "Glory to Berkut!", "Stop Maidan",and "Together with Ukraine". According to organisers, more than 27,000 people came to the event.
A high-school student, Almira, carried a placard at the march that read: "We are for Crimea!" She explained: "I am interested in politics in general and have been following developments in Ukraine. When I saw what was happening in Maidan, it felt as if my younger brother had betrayed me. Ukrainians are our younger brothers, aren't they? That was when I decided to come here.
“I believe that Crimea is our common territory. Only there is no need for any troops. Why doesn't Ukraine just let Crimea go? Its residents are unhappy with that country, so why keep them by force?”
Lyubov Viktorovna, who works at a leisure and sports centre under the Chertanovo-Severnoye district administration of Moscow, said: "I came to this rally of my own accord. My former classmates now live in Ukraine and life there is very hard. I hope everything will end well and without a war.”
More events in support of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine were organised by street racers, who held a 50-car run in Moscow's Sparrow Hills under the slogan: "We don't surrender our own!", and by the Night Wolves bike club, who had set out on a bike run the previous day to the eastern parts of Ukraine "in support of the Russian population".
In St Petersburg, a rally in support of a military campaign was organized by the ruling United Russia party and gathered some 15,000 people outside the Oktyabrsky concert hall.
A statement adopted at the rally supported the decision to use troops in Ukraine due to "unprecedented persecution of ordinary people on ethnic, religious and political grounds".
According to eyewitness accounts, the rally lasted no more than 30 minutes and was attended by public sector employees, students, cadets, and Cossacks. The city authorities explained that a rally "devoted to the situation in Ukraine" had been agreed and sanctioned a long time ago, with the latest developments giving yet another reason to hold it.
A rally against sending troops to Ukraine was held in St Petersburg's Isakiyevskaya Square. It had not been authorised by the city authorities and about 40 were detained out of some 500 people who attended.
A rally and a march were also held in Krasnodar. Some 10,000 people marched through the city with placards that read: "Stop fascism!", "Crimea and Kuban are together!", "United Russia – great Russia!"
Krasnodar Territory governor Aleksandr Tkachev said: "We shall soon send the first batch of humanitarian aid to Ukraine collected by our residents. If things really get tough, we shall give them [Ukrainians] refuge on our land."
He went on to say that Krasnodar Territory residents could not remain indifferent to what was happening in Ukraine since many had friends and family there. "But we are not talking about a war, God forbid! The president has never declared and will never declare a war on the Ukrainian people," Tkachev said.
Several more rallies in support of compatriots in Ukraine will be held in different parts of Russia over the next few days. On Monday, March 3, demonstrations were taking place in Belgorod, Bryansk and Novocherkassk.
On Tuesday, March 4, Rostov, Voronezh, Kostroma and Irkutsk are expected to follow. More rallies are planned in Moscow, in which various politicians, cultural and sporting figures intend to take part.