The Cold War is Back, With Help from Social Media

Photo: REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

The Cold War is back on bitches! First we have ballet dancers acting as double agents. Now, we have allegations from frequently shirtless Russian PM Vladimir Putin that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton encouraged this week’s post-election protests in Moscow.

Russians voted on Sunday, with Putin’s party, United Russia, showing a loss of support and facing accusations of fraud. Even former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has called for a new election. Thousands took to the streets in protest. Shouts of “Putin is a thief” and “Russia without Putin” could be heard.

Secretary Clinton’s comments expressing concern over manipulation of election results were in line with what election monitors had already reported. “And we are supportive of the rights and aspirations of the Russian people to be able to make progress and to realize a better future for themselves, and we hope to see that unfold in the years ahead,” she said.

“She set the tone for some activists in our country and gave them a signal,” Putin responded. He also expressed concern over “interference” from foreign governments. Add to that the breakdown of relations between the two governments over a variety of foreign policy issues and the fears in the Russian government about the influence of the Arab Spring.

Just like the Arab Spring, social media is playing a large role in organizing the protests, a role that is certainly much larger than anything Clinton said. The use of social networking sites VKontakte and Facebook were responsible for bringing out protesters this Monday. Live streaming and video clips of the protests have also been made available.

Another protest is scheduled for Saturday in Moscow, and more than 35,000 have said on this Facebook page that they plan to show up. The permit for the rally allows for 30,000.

“For the first time really the online presence has transformed offline politics,” Konstantin von Eggert, a broadcaster for Kommersant FM radio, has said.

*Update: Police say 25,000 turned out for the weekend protests. And others came out in the bitter cold to protest in other cities. Moreover, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov says he will run for president next year. The Cold War could heat up.