Putin, who also grasps the significance of the Ukrainian uprising for Russia, was predictably less positive in his assessment. The protests, he said, resembled "a pogrom."
And it was perhaps with the events in Ukraine on his mind that the Kremlin leader announced this week that he would not be granting amnesties to the defendants in the so-called "Bolotnaya case" against those detained during anti-Kremlin demonstrations that turned violent on May 6, 2012.
The mass protests in Kiev are taking on additional symbolic value because they are taking place almost exactly two years after Russians staged the largest anti-government protests since the fall of the Soviet Union—also on Bolotnaya Square—on December 11, 2011.
Nemtsov noted the mass nature of the Kiev protests, which dwarfed even the largest Moscow demonstrations. "What we saw in Kiev last weekend, when by various estimates between 400,000 and 800,000 people came out, speaks for itself," Nemtsov said. "And by the way, the population of Kiev is four times less than that of Moscow." In a sarcastic post on Slon.ru, blogger Arkady Babchenko implored the Ukrainian opposition not to repeat the "success" of their Russian counterparts.
"The success of any human endeavor depends at least in part on the ability to imagine an outcome. The Westernizers in Russia have had so few successes in the last decade—or the last century—that they have a hard time imagining anything but failure," Moscow-based journalist and author Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times.
"But now the Ukrainians are showing the Russians that there might be another way. If they succeed, they may change the future of not one but two of the largest countries in Europe."
But the significance of the events in Kiev, of the Maydan, is larger than the lessons they offer to Russia's Bolotnaya opposition. They are larger than the precedent that a democratic revolution in culturally similar Ukraine could set for Russia.
This is about more than contagion. True systemic change in Ukraine would have practical consequences for its northern neighbor. It would deal a significant—if not mortal—blow to the corrupt political and economic model Putin has fine-tuned in Russia and sought to export to the rest of the former Soviet space.
In a 2012 briefing paper for Chatham House, James Greene wrote that a key part of the Putin model was to use corrupt business schemes to "capture" elites and make them compliant—both in Russia and in other parts of the former USSR.
"Putin used the carrot of corruption in conjunction with the stick of 'compromat' to establish patron-client political relationships," Greene wrote.
"By broadening this approach to the corrupt transnational schemes that flowed seamlessly from Russia to the rest of the former Soviet space—and oozed beyond it—Putin could extend his shadow influence beyond Russia's borders and develop a natural 'captured' constituency for maintaining a common Eurasian business space."