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Putin recalculates as politics makes a comeback in Russia (video)

At least 30,000 Muscovites protested Putin's grip on government this weekend. Monday, a new challenger, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, jumped into Russia's presidential race.

By Correspondent / December 12, 2011

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin conducts a meeting in Moscow, in this file photo dated Friday, Dec. 9. Prime Minister Putin is used to talking to people and leading from the front, but he may have to learn how to listen to the people of Russia following the mass protests on Saturday Dec. 10, throughout his nation.

Yana Lapikova/RIA Novosti/AP

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Moscow

In Russia, politics are suddenly real again.

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That was the verdict of many observers Monday, just two days after a crowd of at least 30,000 Muscovites gathered in a downtown square to call for an end to Vladimir Putin's decade-old system of "managed democracy," which severely limits electoral choice, media access, and public freedom of speech. Smaller meetings were held in at least 15 other Russian cities.

Even rally organizers could not agree on a set of precise demands to Russian authorities, nor where they hope to lead the unexpected and mostly spontaneous popular surge from here. Some were calling for a fair recount of the votes in last week's Duma elections, others for the results to be annulled and the polls held again. Many say the opposition's next test of strength, a rally scheduled in Moscow for Dec. 24, will determine whether the movement has enough staying power to become a genuine "Russian Spring."

"Ninety percent of those who came out were not revolutionaries, they're just people who want the right to choose," says Ilya Ponomaryov, a Duma deputy with the left-wing A Just Russia party and one of the rally's key organizers. "But if people were able to choose freely, the power in Russia would change, and that would be kind of revolutionary.... We'll know in a couple of weeks whether we can keep up this dynamic of increasing numbers; if not the movement may subside for awhile."

But there seems little doubt that all previous political calculations are now off, including Mr. Putin's reelection as president in polls slated for next March, which seemed a rock-solid inevitability just two weeks ago.

"We've known for some time that a lot of Russians were discontented, but active defiance is something new," says Masha Lipman, editor of the Moscow Carnegie Center's Pro et Contra journal. "This is politics coming back. There's no question that the presidential elections, instead of being an easy walk to the Kremlin for Putin, are going to be unpredictable in many ways. He will probably still win, but this new public mood isn't going to go away. It's going to produce surprises."

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