"We congratulate you Muscovites on the great victory!" speakers called out repeatedly to some 100,000 people gathered at the Kremlin Wall to cheer Vladimir Putin's victory on Sunday night.
But there were no Muscovites amid the masses, or only a few, at best. Throughout the day, bus convoys bearing license plates from every possible Russian province had rolled into the city, the sleepy faces of its young passengers visible through the windows. Later, carrying maps and beer cans, they would congregate at the Kremlin. They even came from as far as Saratov, a city on the Volga River, nearly a thousand kilometers south of Moscow.
It was a spooky evening: The capital was hardly represented on its own streets. Instead, tens of thousands of people shouted "Putin, Putin," until the new president broke into tears. The young people from Saratov, who were practically children, hadn't the faintest idea what role they were playing -- creating an impression of Moscow for the rest of the country and the world that doesn't exist.
After all, in Moscow, even the election commission admitted, Putin did not earn a majority.