Thousands of Russians marched through Moscow on Sunday in an antigovernment demonstration criticizing President Vladimir V. Putin for what they saw as his warmongering in Ukraine.It was the first large-scale public demonstration against Mr. Putin since March, and one that brought out a sizable but often silent minority of Mr. Putin’s critics despite the patriotic fervor that has seized Russia since his annexation of Crimea in March.“I am disturbed that Russia is fueling a war in Ukraine,” said Sergey Arefov, a lawyer who had attended opposition rallies here before. “I believe it is very dangerous for us and for Europe.” […]“I came here just to convince myself that I wasn’t alone,” said Tatyana Nestretsova, an accountant.
The Russian liberal core of middle class protesters has been largely marginalized in Russian public life since 2011–12, when tens of thousands protested against Vladimir Putin’s power grab in the parliamentary elections. But laws were quickly drawn up to leash the protestors, and the din of nationalist propaganda emanating from Putin’s PR machine throughout the Ukraine crisis drowned out opposition voices. Putin himself has characterized the opposition as traitorous foreign agents.Never a true mass movement—even during the opposition’s heyday, Putin skillfully managed to portray himself as a protector of traditionalism against forces that sought to bring Russia low—Russia’s liberals were taking significant personal risks to demonstrate this weekend given the national mood. Even if their protests don’t change things, they represent a show of real courage and clarity.