Anti-Putin protesters battle cold and divisions
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW (Reuters) - It took several minutes and a woolly hat to resolve the latest differences among the loose alliance of Russian opposition groups challenging Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.
Unable to agree on the order of a protest march through Moscow on Saturday, the organisers, gathered round a few tables shoved together in a crowded Moscow cultural centre, borrowed the hat from a woman bystander and drew lots from it.
A row was averted. Non-affiliated protesters will lead the march, increasing pressure on Putin to allow free elections and open up the political system, and they will be followed by liberals, right-wing groups and nationalists.
The many groups behind the biggest protests since Putin rose to power disagree on more than they agree on, and their chaotic meetings are often an exercise in conflict resolution.
Fearing the Kremlin will exploit any public differences, they are keeping their political demands and sensitive political discussions to a minimum to help maintain the fragile unity.
"A coalition as broad as this can only concentrate on achieving one goal," said Maxim Blant, a journalist debating the protest movement with other civic activists during a political discussion one snowy evening this week.
"The groups involved all want a level playing field for political competition in Russia. This unites them even though they have different values otherwise. They understand the rules of the game - they must focus on the one goal that unites them."
TEST OF MOMENTUM Continued...