Putin accused Clinton of declaring the vote unfair even before hearing from election watchdogs. He also expanded an attack he began last month on Golos, Russia’s only independent election monitor, which has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the balloting. The organization receives aid from the United States and Europe.
If foreign countries want to send medicine or other humanitarian aid, that is fine, Putin said. But, he warned, those countries should stay away from politics.
“We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs and defend our sovereignty,” Putin said. “It is necessary to think about improving the law and toughening responsibility for those who take orders from foreign states to influence internal political processes.”
Clinton, in Brussels at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, tried to strike a conciliatory note, but did not back away from her earlier critiques of election irregularities.
“We value our relationship with Russia,” Clinton said. “At the same time . . . we expressed concerns that we thought were well-founded about the conduct of elections. And we are supportive of the rights and aspirations of the Russian people to be able to make progress and realize a better future, and we hope to see that unfold in the years ahead.”
Putin was making his first public remarks since his United Russia party won a sharply reduced parliamentary majority on Sunday. Election observers have said that widespread fraud probably concealed an even lesser result for the party, which has ruled Russia for the past 12 years. The prime minister was addressing the Coordinating Council of the Popular Front, a movement he organized in May as it became clear that United Russia was not generating much voter enthusiasm. The Popular Front includes United Russia but goes beyond it, drawing in popular figures and various organizations such as trade unions and student groups, some of which were surprised to find that they had been signed up.
Sunday’s election results and the allegations of fraud triggered some of the largest opposition protests in Russia in years, with hundreds of people arrested Monday and Tuesday. In his remarks, Putin said Clinton had “set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal . . . and [they] started active work.”
Russia remains extraordinarily sensitive to remarks directed its way from the United States, and responds angrily when it considers the United States to be lecturing or patronizing it. “We are a major nuclear power and remain such,” Putin said. “And this causes some concerns for our partners.”