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Russian Loyalists Hold 'Anti-Maidan' March in Moscow

by Daniel Schearf February 21, 2015

As Ukraine marks the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan clashes that toppled its Russia-leaning president, thousands of demonstrators in Moscow on Saturday held what they called an "anti-Maidan" march.

The protesters called for peace in eastern Ukraine while blaming Kyiv's conflict with Russian-backed rebels on leaders in Kyiv and the West.

Ukraine and the West say Russia supplies military support to the rebels, a charge it denies.

The pro-Kremlin march, held under the slogan, 'A year since Maidan. We won't forget! We won't forgive!,' lasted about 90 minutes.

Maidan refers to Kyiv's pro-European Union protests in February 2014 that led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

The 'anti-Maidan' demonstration was promoted in Russia's state media, with the Rossiya 24 television channel saying in its broadcasts, 'Come, if you like your country!'

"Putinism forever,' said a handmade banner held by an elderly woman, while some participants in military fatigues had a placard reading, 'Maidan is an illness – we're going to cure it!'

Not everyone was onboard with the spirit of the rally. Students from a Moscow university said they were told by their dean to attend, and about 30 people participated in a counterdemonstration in central Moscow.

Still, pro-Russian sentiment was strong. One march participant, small-business owner Marat, stated a common belief among supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin: The West wants to destroy Russia and steal its resources.

'Today's war – and it is certainly war, an ideological and information war in Ukraine, using Nazi forces against Russia – is a war against Russia,' he said. 'It's not a war against Putin.'

Many of the demonstrators believe Europe and the United States were behind the "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine that led to last year's uprising in Kyiv. Russia's state-controlled media fuel that theory, as well as claims that right-wing extremists now control Ukraine.

Some demonstrators, like interior designer Stepan, fear that Russia may be next.

'I'm here to support the unity of the Russian Federation,' he said, 'because I know there are forces and people who do not want this unity, and that in the future there may be a color revolution like in Ukraine.'

Some demonstrators held flags of Novorossia, a czarist-era term used to describe the wider Russian-speaking world in parts of the former Soviet Union.

Ousted Ukrainian politician Oleg Tsarev is with the self-declared "Parliament of Novorossia" and helped organize the march.

'The goal of the United States is to organize war in central Europe,' Tsarev said. 'The goal of the United States is to draw Russia into that war, place sanctions against Russia, undermine the economic situation, lower the standard of living for Russians, organize a color revolution here, dismember Russia, destroy Russia's military strength and gain direct control over the natural resources in the broken republics that remain.'

Night Wolfs motorbike club leader Alexander Zladostanov, who helped form the "anti-Maidan" group and was sanctioned by the U.S. for his involvement in Russia's annexation of Crimea, said, 'The main thing is not to remain seated. For me, it is better to die, if that is my fate, as a warrior rather than as a weakling, a victim.'

Saturday's rally came as Russia is heading into recession caused by low oil prices and Western sanctions. Masha Lipman, a Moscow-based political analyst and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said she thought the Kremlin 'should be concerned about the prospect of discontent and is getting prepared" for it.

"You cannot expect your people to be, you know, fully acquiescent, even if they are loyal to the president,' she said.

Some information for this report was provided by RFE/RL.

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