Putin rebukes Clinton for fueling rallies

Putin rebukes Clinton for fueling rallies

Putin rebukes Clinton for fueling rallies

Putin’s slamming of Clinton shows deep cracks in troubled US-Russian relations. AP photo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is encouraging and funding Russians protesting alleged electoral fraud, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin charged yesterday following last week’s parliamentary polls while also warning of a wider crackdown on dissent.

In one of his most bitter tirades against Washington in years, Putin accused Clinton of providing the “signal” for the unusually large protests contesting the validity of Dec. 4’s elections.

“They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department, began their active work,” Putin said in televised remarks. The United States is spending “hundreds of millions” of dollars to influence Russian politics with the aim of weakening a rival nuclear power, he added.

Putin’s tough words show the deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin. Ahead of the election, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles to target a U.S.-backed NATO missile shield in Europe if Washington failed to assuage Moscow’s concerns about its plans.

Clinton has repeatedly criticized Dec. 4’s parliamentary vote in Russia, saying, “Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation.”

Clinton, however, reached out to Russia yesterday. “I think it’s important to recognize that we value our relations with Russia,” she said at a NATO meeting in Brussels, where she also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We have invested a great deal of effort on working together ... and we have made progress.”
Clinton defended her criticism of the elections, saying she was expressing concerns the U.S. thought were well-founded.

Putin also warned that the government might take an even harder line against those who try to influence Russia’s political process on behalf of a foreign government. He accused the U.S. State Department of spending “hundreds of millions” of dollars in Russia and that his government had to “work out ways to protect our sovereignty from outside interference.” “We are the largest nuclear power,” Putin said, addressing supporters during the televised meeting. “And our partners have certain concerns and shake us so that we don’t forget who is the master of this planet, so that we remain obedient and feel that they have leverage to influence us within our own country.”

Three days of protests

Russian protesters have taken to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg for three straight nights despite a heavy police presence to express outrage over observers’ allegations of widespread ballot-box stuffing and manipulations of the vote count. This week has witnessed some of the biggest and most sustained protests Russia has faced in years, and police have detained hundreds of protesters.

Putin’s United Russia party barely held onto its majority in parliament, with official results giving it about 50 percent of the vote, down from 64 percent four years ago. His tirade came at a time when thousands of Russians were preparing for a large-scale protest tomorrow against election fraud, which some vote-monitoring groups said augmented support for Putin’s party by nearly 20 percent.

One such group, Golos, was under pressure throughout the election period, as its chief was unexpectedly detained at a Moscow airport, its phone lines were disconnected and its websites were attacked by hackers in the run-up to the polls.

Also yesterday, Russia’s top election official urged prosecutors to study photographs and video clips circulating on social networking sites that purport to show election fraud and signaled that those who posted the materials could be punished. More than 28,000 people have now signed up to a Facebook page for the protests.

A map circulating on the Internet shows protests planned for tomorrow in more than 75 cities around Russia, while a page on LiveJournal lists more planned anti-vote fraud protests in 15 countries around the world. Moscow has already put about 50,000 police and 2,000 paramilitary troops on the streets, backed by water cannon.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff