A far-eastern tiger faces Putin's United Russia bear.
Putin flew groups of riot police 10,000 kilometres on Saturday to meet anti-government protestors gathered in Vladivostok. Around a thousand Russians from the east of the country showed disdain for the Prime Minister by taking to the streets. Their message: "United Russia can go to hell".
They started out as demonstrations against a tax increase on imported cars (implemented to strengthen the country's own automobile industry). But after two weeks of heightened tensions in Russia's far-eastern cities, the discontent has developed into a bitter political attack on the country's capital and Mr Putin. The Kremlin responded to the protests by flying riot police in to the city from Moscow - 9,300 kilometres away. The armed guards beat kicked and arrested around 200 people including reporters and a group who were dancing around a New Year tree (see video below).
The demonstration was not authorised by the local authorities. When these people started dancing around a New Year tree in Vladivostok's main square, riot police were sent in to remove them. Video posted by "tatatrumo" 21 Dec. 08.
Reporters were also arrested. Video posted by "lisamanina" 21 Dec. 08.
People were carried away by police. Photos by blogger "matroskin_cat".
"United Russia can go to hell"
Written below the United Russia flag: "Go to Bobruysk, you beast". Bobruysk is a Belorussian town; the sentence is widespread Russian slang for "Go to Hell". Photo taken in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (on the Sakhalin Island off the east coast) by "troevredie".
"Russian people! There's not enough honey for everyone! Learn to suck on your paws!" Below: "Government! Stick your concern for people up your ass! Just let us be!" Photo taken in Vladivostok by blogger "matroskin_cat".
"A present for Putin". Protesters send this Russian car to Putin who drives a Mercedes. Photo taken in Khabarovsk (east) by Mikhail Stroev.
There were also arrests in Novosibirsk, a central Russian city, where protests were held in support of Vladivostok, along with several other cities, including Moscow, where around 200 people gathered. Posted by "McOFF54" 21 Dec. 08
'Moscow has lost Vladivostok'
Everybody I talked to about today's riot police mayhem has the same feeling: there'll be more protests, and soon. And - everybody says that - today, Moscow lost Vladivostok."
'The city is under total police control'
The city is under total police control. Cars that drive with lights on or carry ribbons are stopped by traffic wardens, and the drivers' licences are taken away. Many public sector workers have received phone calls. They were told that if they went to the demo they'd be sacked. And some students were told they'd be dismissed from their universities if seen at a meeting. People started to gather on Central Square at noon. But the police acted quickly and violently: while the meeting was still small, riot police surrounded it and started to grab everybody. Many people were arrested, among them the REN-TV crew, photographers and journalists. People were severely beaten near the police cars. Central Square is now surrounded by police who aren't letting anybody in. The press is censored: instead of the REN-TV news bulletin at 12.30, there was a music programme. Police patrols stop groups of more than three people - if they are considered suspicious, they're arrested on the spot.
Police photograph themselves on Saturday before the arrests start.