Riot police today quickly and forcefully broke up an opposition attempt to occupy a downtown square in a bid to challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election, arresting dozens of participants, including some prominent opposition leaders. The harsh police action could fuel the opposition anger and trigger bigger protests against Putin's rule, but it also underlined the massive challenges faced by the opposition.
Putin seems to command the unswerving loyalty of police and the military, whose wages have recently been doubled. The urban middle-class forming the core of the protests could be more reluctant to attend future protests after seeing the tough police response. The police action followed a rally in downtown Moscow that drew about 20,000 protesters angry over a campaign slanted in Putin's favor and reports of widespread violations in yesterday's ballot.