MOSCOW, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Politics has gone viral in Russia and the rapid spread of the Internet has changed the face of campaigns, media coverage and protests, political analysts say.
Voice of America reports many in the political establishment were caught by surprise when Russia's vast protest movement began, and then drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets.
"They should have seen it coming; they did not see it coming," says Sam Greene, an American political scientist in Moscow.
The country may be a latecomer to online politics but the Web has become a powerful force whose influence should not be underestimated by incumbents candidates or the media, not even state-controlled media, VOA notes.
Because of the reach of the Internet, with 50 million Russians online, state-controlled TV had no choice but to cover the massive Dec. 24 protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Greene says.
"That has not been on television ever. And it was the combination of the fact that the Internet would have put the information out there, and did put that information out there," he says. "And there were 80,000 100,000, 120,000 people on the streets, which is hard to miss. That forced television into this corner."
With voters looking ahead to the March 4 presidential elections, the Internet increasingly is used to communicate, coordinate and raise funds for rallies -- and to persuade voters to vote (or not to vote) for candidates through slick campaign Web sites and online videos.
Social networks like Facebook play a huge role in turning out people for protests, VOA says, with 100,000 people expected at a Feb. 4 Moscow rally -- without benefit of political graffiti or political posters in the city.