Vladimir Putin

Russian protestors took to the streets in Moscow over the past three days in Arab Spring-like protests alleging election fraud in Russia’s parliamentary elections, which took place on Sunday. But instead of Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin listening to his people's concerns over vote-rigging, Putin is blaming US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for stoking the opposition.

Putin said Clinton “set the tone for some opposition activists,” and “gave them a signal,” according to the Associated Press (AP). He also warned that anyone working for foreign governments to influence Russian politics would be held to account.

Russia's independent election monitoring group, Golos, which is funded by the US and the EU, has received 5,300 allegations of electoral violations. Subsequently, its website was hacked and the head of the organization was detained for several hours. Prosecutors fined Golos 30,000 roubles, or $958, for violations of the electoral law.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also said there had been “severe problems with the counting process” after the vote, citing the stuffing of ballot boxes.

Putin even referenced the government overthrows in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, in what seemed like a veiled threat to crack down on the protests.

Putin’s remarks come one day after he officially registered his candidacy for the presidential elections in March, which has led observers to wonder whether defying the US is his way of winning over some voters.

Clinton responded to Putin’s remarks after talks between NATO allies and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brussels, saying her concerns were “well-founded”.

Voter fraud or no voter fraud, it seems clear that Putin’s United Russia party is losing its luster with the Russian people. Official election results show that Putin’s party received 50% of the vote, down from 64% four years ago.

Putin seems to be set on crushing the opposition. “We are required to protect our sovereignty,” he said. “We need to think about strengthening the law and holding more responsible those who carry out the aims of a foreign government by influencing our internal political process,” he continued, according to AP.

Putin has already sent 50,000 police and troops with water cannons onto the streets and has made it clear he opposes the protests in the Arab world. Some officials have even alleged that the protests have been backed by the West.

Opposition groups have called for a mass protest in Moscow’s Revolutionary Square on Saturday and over 27,000 people have so far signed up on Facebook to take part.

(Photo © Alexsey Druginyn/Reuters)