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March 23, 2023

Putin accuses US over poll protests

MOSCOW – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of being behind protests over the results of Russia’s parliamentary elections. Putin said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “set the tone for some opposition activists”. She “gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work”, he said. Clinton maintained that her concerns were “well-founded”. OSCE monitors have also been critical.

Putin accused the protesters of acting “in accordance with a well-known scenario and in their own mercenary political interests”. He warned that those working for foreign governments to influence Russian politics would be held to account.

“It is unacceptable when foreign money is pumped into election processes”, Mr Putin said in comments shown on state-run TV. “We should think of forms of defence of our sovereignty, defence from interference from abroad,” he added. Most Russians did not want the kind of political upheavals that had been seen in recent years in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, he said.

Putin’s remarks came a day after he officially registered his candidacy for the presidential elections next March. He stood down from the office in 2008 and has since held the post of prime minister.

Hundreds of protesters have been detained by authorities since the elections to the State Duma on Sunday. Fresh rallies are planned by opposition activists for the weekend. While maintaining that protesters had the right to express their opinion, Putin warned that “if somebody breaks the law, then the authorities… should demand that the law is adhered to”.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said on Monday that there had been “severe problems with the counting process” after the vote, citing apparent irregularities such as the stuffing of ballot boxes. Earlier this week the US expressed “serious concerns” over the conduct of the vote.

On Tuesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded angrily to comments Clinton made about the conduct of the elections during an OSCE meeting in Lithuania. “This is not Hyde Park, this is not Triumfalnaya [Triumphal] Square in Moscow, where speakers arrive to pour out their soul and then turn around and leave, not listening to others,” he said.

Results published by Russia’s Electoral Commission showed support for Putin’s United Russia party had dropped but that it would still retain a slim majority in the Duma. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev insisted that the vote had been free and fair.

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