From today’s Christian Science Monitor:

MOSCOW – The idea couldn’t have been simpler: to chart online the scale of antigovernment protests erupting across Russia, marking each city where pensioners rallied against welfare reform with a fire.

The resulting website – which gets 1,500 hits a day, including many from the FSB, the successor to the KGB – is proving a catalyst for Russian youths disenchanted with the politics of President Vladimir Putin.

“They can close us, but we can host somewhere else, like in the US. The Internet is still a free zone,” says Alexander Korsunov, creator of the site, or Say No. “We can use this site to join everyone online. The main thing is to get everyone offline, and onto the streets.”

Springing from the unprecedented pensioner protests last January, several new anti-Putin youth groups have emerged or are gathering steam, casting themselves as harbingers of opposition before Russia’s 2008 presidential election.

The protests helped push Mr. Putin’s longstanding approval ratings of nearly 80 percent last year down to 42 percent. … as the elderly try to safeguard their retirement, the new youth groups are battling to redefine the meaning of patriotism in a political environment where the Kremlin has equated devotion to Putin with love of Russia. [IMAGINE THAT!]

The emergence of groups like Moving Without Putin and Yabloko Youth – with sites like Mr. Korsunov’s providing connections across Russia – has prompted Moving Together, the main pro-Putin group, to respond. …

The Internet is a way to spread the word, at a time when virtually all national broadcast media are government-controlled.

“We live in an information society, [but] now I know that we live in this information vacuum,” says Korsunov, whose map is dotted with protest fires that point to a “big problem.” “If you don’t have information, you make the wrong choices. I don’t go into ideology on the website, because I believe people are not stupid. There are a lot of kitchen talks, as in Soviet times, about [Putin’s] ‘vertical power.’ ”

The answer will be on the streets, says Ilya Yashin, head of the youth groups of the liberal Yabloko party.

“The fight for the presidential election in 2008 has already started … and social groups like the youth movement will take a serious part,” says Mr. Yashin, who two weeks ago was caught trying to listen in on a meeting of Nashi [Nashi is the PRO-PUTIN GROUP formed to combat the activism]. He was forcibly removed and dumped in the snow.

“The Kremlin is really scared about Ukraine and Georgia,” he says. … CSM

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