Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hit back at protests over alleged electoral fraud even as Russia’s biggest street demonstrations in a decade threaten to complicate his bid to return to the Kremlin next year.
While Putin pledged to bolster transparency during March’s presidential vote, he rejected accusations of fraud at Dec. 4 parliamentary elections and said foreign funding was helping fuel protests organized by his foes to “destabilize” Russia. He spoke in a 4 1/2-hour phone-in show on television yesterday.
Putin, 59, is facing the biggest unrest since he came to power. Opposition groups got permission this week to stage a demonstration in Moscow on Dec. 24 for as many as 50,000 people, twice the size of the crowd estimated by police at a similar rally Dec. 10. The protests may force Putin into a run-off for the Kremlin if he can’t win more than 50 percent support.
“Putin doesn’t believe he has to make any serious compromises,” Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation research group, said yesterday by phone. “He made statements the opposition will consider insulting.” The ruble was little changed at 31.7674 per dollar after yesterday snapping 10 days of losses against the U.S. currency. The 30-stock Micex Index advanced for a second day, adding 0.7 percent to 1,403.33 at 10:59 a.m. in Moscow.
Putin warned against being “dragged into some schemes to destabilize society” and compared the rallies against accusations of ballot-rigging to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Organizers paid students to join the Dec. 10 rally in the Russian capital, he added.
“We know the Orange Revolution in Ukraine — some of our opposition leaders were in Ukraine at the time and were working officially as advisers to Yushchenko,” Putin said, referring to the 2004 street protests in the former Soviet republic that overturned the results of a presidential election and brought opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to power. “They are transferring these tactics to Russia.”