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Moscow struggles to believe in Putin’s tears

High emotion, cold calculation or just brought on by the wind? The moment when Vladimir Putin shed tears became such a talking point in Russia Monday that it even led to naming a protest.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny coined the slogan “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” for a mass anti-Putin rally on Monday evening, using the title of an Oscar-winning Soviet melodrama.

The perennially popular 1979 film by director Vladimir Menshov tells the story of a group of women friends. By curious coincidence, the three-hour film was shown by state television on election day Sunday and Monday night.

“The armed forces are guarding the stolen votes. Public sector workers are grimly silent as they cheer ‘We won!'” Navalny wrote darkly on his blog of Putin’s election triumph.

“It’s enough to make anyone cry,” he added.

Putin clearly had tears running down his face as he appeared in front of tens of thousands of people outside the Kremlin to celebrate his victory in presidential elections. He later said his wet eyes were brought on by the wind.

At the first opposition rally after the elections on a central Moscow square, protesters carried posters with slogans such as “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears”, “Moscow doesn’t believe in crocodile tears” and “12 years of tears,” referring to Putin’s possible two further terms in the Kremlin.

Speakers at the rally mocked Putin for crying.

“That wasn’t tears, that was Botox flowing out,” said chess champion turned liberal politician Garry Kasparov, referring to suspicions that the Russian strongman, 59, has had cosmetic injections to keep him looking young.

“Yesterday the leader cried surrounded by his riot police, his security forces, his Nashi youth supporters, why would the winner cry in a crowd like that?” asked liberal politician Boris Nemtsov.

“Yesterday he admitted he wasn’t the president, because if he was, he would have been happy.”

Jokes about Putin crying also made the rounds on Twitter, with critics turning the Russian word for “tears” into a hashtag.

But some of his supporters praised him for showing a more human side.

Anastasia Pronina, an activist from pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, wrote on Twitter: “Yesterday I saw Putin crying on stage and I felt so good, I had tears in my eyes myself. It was so cute.”

Craggy-faced Putin has shown his emotions in the past, such as when he appeared choked at the funeral of Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian president who picked him as his successor.

However, he is better known for coarse jokes and critics said the tears outside the Kremlin were a case of too little, too late.

“We didn’t see any tears about the Kursk or about the children of Beslan, by the way,” wrote blogger Ilya Dombrovsky on Snob.ru website, referring to a submarine disaster in 2000 and the hostage tragedy in a school in 2004.