Protesters Flood The Streets In Moscow

Opponents of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin marched through the streets of Moscow Saturday in another large demonstration against alleged voting fraud. The protest is seen as a test both for the opposition and Putin, ahead of March's presidential election. Guest host David Greene gets the latest from NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Russia's foreign minister this morning made clear that his government still has major problems with a U.N. resolution on the violence in Syria. Though Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did seem to suggest some wiggle room. Lavrov said the resolution makes too few demands of armed groups opposition President Bashar al-Assad's regime. While Russian officials make their case on Syria, they're also monitoring yet another mass anti-government protest in their capital, Moscow. Following both of these developing stories is NPR's Corey Flintoff who joins us from the Russian capital. Good morning, Corey.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, Dave.

GREENE: Well, Corey, let's start with Syria, if we can. I mean, at the moment, at the U.N. all eyes are really on Russia and whether they're going to veto a resolution confronting President Assad, whether they might abstain. What is the latest?

FLINTOFF: Well, there seem to be two things going on here. One, is that the Russian government wants to project strength in foreign policy independence. But the other I think, the reason that they're not willing to support regime change in Syria is because there's a lot of unrest going on in Russia right now. And I think Russian government simply doesn't want to encourage that or encourage any kind of international intervention.

GREENE: And so Lavrov said this resolution currently, I mean, is not hopeless, which, you know, what kind of signal is that?

FLINTOFF: Well, it's a signal, I think, that the Russian government is willing to negotiate but we've have a very narrow frame of conditions. They definitely are remaining strong in their support for Assad. And they absolutely don't want any language in there that could indicate that there could be any kind of international military intervention in Syria.

GREENE: And with Russia not wanting this idea of regime change out there - I mean, that comes at a moment when we have thousands of people on the streets who are calling for an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's time in political power. You've been out on the streets today. What's the scene there in Moscow?

FLINTOFF: Well, it was cold out here, and that's one thing that the organizers were afraid of, that the cold weather would keep people away. But most people that we talked to had been at previous demonstrations in December said that it looked like a comparable turnout to them, which was a very good sign for the organizers. It was a big crowd, very good-humored crowd, people generally very well-dressed and prosperous looking. So, they didn't seem to be there because of economic distress. One sign I saw that would resonate well with American voters said we are not the opposition. We are your employers. There's a lot of humor in that I saw as well. The most concise sign I saw had only four letters in it said, Pufu(ph), which is shorthand basically for Putin phooey.

GREENE: What are the demonstrators saying?

FLINTOFF: The demonstrators are saying that, most of them, that they have no illusions that Putin is going to be ousted by this. They are convinced that he'll be elected in March but they do want the government to know that they are aware of the corruption and electoral fraud. This is woman that we talked to, Valaria Kumakiyava(ph). She's a 37-year-old university professor, and she said that people like her are sick of this and they're not going to stand for it anymore.

VALARIA KUMAKIYAVA: It's important to show the others that the Russian people - and there are many of them - and that actually we have different opinions and we want our opinions to be heard.

FLINTOFF: The message that we heard from many people was that it's not economic discontent. This is a specifically political message to the government.

GREENE: All right. So, Vladimir Putin, prime minister, and he's trying to return to the presidency coming up in that election in March. That's NPR's Corey Flintoff speaking to us in Moscow. Corey, thanks.

FLINTOFF: Oh, thank you, David.

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