Medvedev responded on his Facebook site to the protesters’ complaints that the December 4 election was slanted to favour of his and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, but did not mention their calls for an end to Putin’s rule.
“I do not agree with any slogans or statements made at the rallies. Nevertheless, instructions have been given by me to check all information from polling stations regarding compliance with the legislation on elections,” Medvedev said in a post on the social media site.
“Citizens of Russia have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. People have a right to express the position that they did yesterday. It all took place within the framework of the law,” he added.
His statement was a sign that the Russian leadership feels under pressure after the biggest opposition protests since Putin rose to power in 1999. The protesters themselves used social media to organise their rallies.
In a further sign of recognition that the people’s mood has changed after years of tight political control by Putin, city authorities across Russia allowed Saturday’s protests to go ahead and riot police hardly intervened.
State television and other Russian channels also broadcast footage of a huge protest in Moscow, breaking a policy of showing almost no negative coverage of the authorities. But Medvedev had already indicated before the protests that he would call an inquiry, and a statement from Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave no indication that the prime minister was about to make big concessions to the protesters.
“We respect the point of view of the protesters, we are hearing what is being said, and we will continue to listen to them,” Peskov said in a statement late Saturday.
That is unlikely to appease protesters who issued a list of demands at the Moscow rally, which police said was attended by 25,000 people and the organisers said attracted up to 150,000.
The demands included much more than just an investigation into the conduct of the election, which international monitors and the United States said was slanted to help United Russia secure a majority in the State Duma lower house.
The protesters demanded a rerun of the election, the sacking of Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov, and the release of people they define as political prisoners. The organisers also called for a new day of protests on December 24.
“I am happy. December 10, 2011 will go down in history as the day the country’s civic virtue and civil society was revived. After 10 years of hibernation, Moscow and all Russia woke up,” Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader, wrote in his blog.