"No one expected it to end like this; the police reaction was way too harsh," says Alexei Larionov, an economist who says he hasn't attended a protest since 1991. "I got hit myself. It certainly looked like the police were under orders to be really tough. I think that had a lot to do with Putin's inauguration tomorrow. They wanted to give us a clear warning. But I don't think protests will stop because of this. This will continue."
The wave of protests broke out in December, shattering Russia's facade of pro-Kremlin social harmony, and throwing up a new generation of political leaders whose roots are in civil society rather than the strictly-orchestrated political system of "managed democracy."
The reaction of the authorities was not to crack down with police violence, as in the past, but to sponsor a raft of political reforms designed to take some of the wind out of protester's sails. They included an easing of requirements to officially register a political party, a return to direct elections for regional governors – albeit with Kremlin "filters" to prevent surprises – and possible establishment of a public TV channel independent of state control.