Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of encouraging protests over Russia's recent parliamentary elections that have resulted in hundreds of arrests in major cities.
In his first public remarks about daily demonstrations by protesters alleging the December 4 vote was fraudulent and unfair, Putin said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "gave a signal" to the opposition.
"I have seen the first reaction of our American partners," Putin said. "The first thing the [U.S.] secretary of state did was give an assessment that the election was neither free nor fair, even before she received materials from OSCE/ODIHR observers. And she set a tone for some of our actors inside the country. She gave a signal and they heard it and, with the support of the U.S. State Department, have started to work actively."
In Brussels on December 8, Clinton maintained that her concerns about the conduct of the elections were "well-founded."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington that U.S. programs were "designed to support a more transparent, free, and fair electoral process. They're not about favoring any political group or any political agenda more than any other agenda."
Election monitors have also been critical. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections exhibited "limited political competition and a lack of fairness."
Clinton said on December 5 that she had "serious concerns" about Russia's weekend elections.
At an OSCE summit on December 6, Clinton again cited the Russian State Duma voting
as evidence that "elections that are neither free nor fair" undermine popular confidence in authorities.
Putin, who was barred from a third consecutive term as president but is an odds-on favorite to return to the presidency after a March election, said some of the protesters were pursuing selfish political aims.
He said most Russians did not want "to see chaos" in Russia like the kind Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan had endured. Putin has in the past dismissively labeled pro-democracy revolts in those and other former Soviet states as "color revolutions" fomented by the West.
Russian officials say the December 4 parliamentary elections were won by Putin's United Russia party, although with a sharply reduced majority and less than half the vote.
Hundreds of people have been arrested during three nights of protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg against alleged election fraud, with smaller demonstrations in other cities.
U.S. officials, including Clinton, have voiced concern about the allegations of election fraud.
compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports