Moscow drivers flying white balloons and ribbons prepared to circle the Kremlin on Sunday in protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s likely return as president in March 4 polls.
The second such auto rally in three weeks was due to be picked up in other cities as the opposition sought to keep up momentum after launching the biggest wave of anti-Putin rallies in his 12-year rule in December.
“The closer we manage to get to the Kremlin, the more effective this event will be,” the protest movement’s League of Voters said in a statement.
Nearly 3,500 people had signed up for the event on its Facebook account a few hours before the scheduled 2:00 pm (1000 GMT) start in Moscow.
Russia has witnessed a month of weekly rival rallies between Putin foes and his state-backed supporters in advance of elections that the 59-year-old former KGB spy is almost certain to win.
A poll of likely voters conducted by the Kremlin-linked Public Opinion Foundation showed Putin reclaiming the seat he held from 2000 to 2008 with 60 percent support.
Putin’s youth movement backers attempted to steal the opposition’s thunder by quickly arranging their own car run around Moscow’s 16-kilometre (10-mile) Garden Ring Road on Saturday night.
They displayed pictures of Putin — looking youthful and wearing sunglasses that played up his strongman credentials — and floated Russian flags from their cars in an event the city police said drew 2,000 vehicles.
“With Putin driving, everything will go smoothly,” one sign said.
“Putin in the driver’s seat,” said another slogan stamped on hundreds of cars.
State news reports said some of the participants blasted Louis Armstrong’s “Blueberry Hill” in commemoration of Putin’s surprise performance of the jazz classic at a charity event two years ago.
At least 50,000 people attended rallies in support of Putin across Russia on Saturday in advance of a mass demonstration called for Thursday in Moscow on Defenders of the Fatherland Day.
The opposition for its part intends to create a human chain around the Garden Ring next Sunday.