(MOSCOW) — Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow Sunday to protest against corruption one week before Russians go to the polls to elect their next president.
It was the latest in a string of demonstrations directed against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that were unimaginable here just three months ago.
Protesters linked hands along the ring road surrounding central Moscow in what was being called a “Big White Circle,” named after the opposition’s iconic white ribbons. Many more drove by with white ribbons fluttering from their windows and honking in support.
Organizers estimated that around 40,000 people turned out for the event, while police figures put the number at 11,000.
The protest was much smaller than previous demonstrations against Putin, including one earlier in February during frigid winter weather. That, combined with rising poll numbers for Putin, may signal some fatigue among the Russian opposition who have resigned to the fact that Putin is likely to win the March 4 vote.
Police were out in force to prevent protesters from blocking traffic. The heaviest police presence was around Red Square and nearby Revolution Square, where they had riot helmets and nightsticks at the ready.
In Revolution Square, a group of communist youth activists planned to burn Putin in effigy. There, the atmosphere was tenser and the crowd chanted “Russia without Putin” and “Putin is a thief.”
Their protests appeared to dare the police to arrest them, but it was clear early on that the police had no interest in making any of them a martyr on Sunday.
Putin is expected to win next Sunday’s election despite the protests. Even independent pollsters put his popularity at over 60 percent.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Rafael Romo and Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
James Griffiths, CNN
Ray Sanchez, CNN
Georgia McCafferty and Junko Ogura, CNN