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After a long Moscow winter, Russia's opposition activists have slapped on the sunscreen and are leaving the capital for 30 degree sunshine and a fresh audience of protesters on the shores of the Caspian sea. Call it the Moscow protest movement, spring break edition.
While Vladimir Putin's March presidential victory left Russia's nascent protest movement sputtering, the opposition hopes it can find its feet by venturing outside the Moscow ring road and focusing on regional campaigns.
At the end of March it sent dozens of election observers to Yaroslavl, an industrial city just north of Moscow, and helped an independent politician unseat the pro-Kremlin candidate in the city's mayoral election. Now the movement has moved 1,300km south to the city of Astrakhan to rally behind Oleg Shein, a local political leader on hunger strike over alleged ballot fraud.
Celebrities of the Moscow opposition movement, such as the glamorous socialite Ksenia Sobchak, began descending on this sleepy shipping city in April, bringing droves of the capital's 20-something hipsters with them. "My father refers to it as political tourism - people travelling to wherever there is outrage," jokes Yuri Suetin, a young computer specialist who, like many of the activists, had opted to travel 28 hours to Astrakhan by train, paying the fare out of his own pocket.
Exporting Moscow's so-called "revolution of the satisfied" to impoverished corners of Russia would appear to be a risky bet, especially in a region such as Astrakhan where the average monthly salary is just Rb17,000 (EUR437).
Yet so far the caravanning opposition members have been surprisingly well-received. They helped stage a two-hour rally and march near the Astrakhan Kremlin, attracting a crowd of about 3,000 - a victory given the city's population of half a million - while locals joke that the Muscovites' pocketbooks will soon help it replace St Petersburg as Russia's second biggest tourist destination.
The welcome is largely a result of local support for Mr Shein, who appears to have been robbed of his mayoral victory by fraud, based on video and observer evidence and the wide margins he received at polling stations where votes were counted automatically instead of by hand.
In recent days Mr Shein has taken on near-martyr status in the city due to his increasingly dangerous hunger strike. So far the strike has wiped 12kg off his already slight frame and the politician vows to continue the strike until death unless his demands for fresh elections are met. "He is our Jesus Christ," says Oktai Magomedov, a local business owner. Another woman bursts into tears at the mention of Mr Shein's name.
Between the electoral violations and the public's affection for the defeated candidate, Astrakhan seems to be fertile ground for the opposition taking its regional push forward, especially with several important mayoral races on the horizon, says Nikolai Petrov of Moscow's Carnegie Centre.
Yet the opposition's toughest battle will be converting Mr Shein's own supporters, who are deeply pessimistic not only about fresh elections but real political change.
Asked about another rally, Natalia, 59, a retired engineer who like all her friends voted for Mr Shein, gushes about the carnival atmosphere, singing and speeches. However, she dismisses the protests' potential significance. "I enjoyed the protest so much, but it doesn't help anything," she says, noting that public sector workers had been forced to attend a rival rally the same day in support of Mr Shein's opponent. Many had been asked on election day to show their photographed ballot papers to their employers.
"You wants things to get better so that there is discipline and the city flourishes," says Oleg Ushenev, a driver and Shein supporter. "But I am 64 years-old. I have already stopped waiting for things to change."
Alexei Navalny, the popular opposition leader who spent five days in Astrakhan, admits that such pessimism is a problem. But he says it will fade as the protest movement gathers steam. "It's not just a problem for the people of Astrakhan, it's a problem for all Russians. They don't believe in their own power," he told the Financial Times. The rally, he added, had been a victory on its own. "It showed that the majority of people [in the grassroots movement] are not visitors, but the people of Astrakhan".
Mr Shein filed a law suit in a local court over the election results and flew to Moscow to go over polling booth footage with the head of the Central Election Commission. In an interview before his trip, Mr Shein said he saw no sign of the movement ending just yet. "In Astrakhan two Russias have clashed - the Russia of swindlers and thieves, and the people who want order," he said. "People are ready for a change."