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Putin allies urge him to talk to opponents

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MOSCOW — Two of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s most formidable allies urged him Saturday to listen to protesters and take steps to accommodate them as a way of shoring up eroding confidence in the government.

Putin has offered little satisfaction to the many thousands of demonstrators who twice last month filled streets in Moscow and other cities, protesting the conduct of the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections and demanding law-abiding government. Though some officials have been shuffled and electoral reforms promised, Putin has dismissed suggestions that he talk to the opposition. He has relied instead on his tough-guy persona, which has served him well since he came to power more than a decade ago, to see him through.

On Saturday, Russia’s Christmas Day, the leader of the Orthodox Church said in a television interview that the government “should adjust its course through dialogue.” From another quarter, Alexei Kudrin, the much-respected former finance minister and Putin friend of many years, wrote on his blog that the head of the election commission should resign to instill confidence in the March presidential election, which Putin is expected to win.

Both Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have cultivated close relations with Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who in November was granted exclusive premises in the Kremlin to conduct business and hold receptions.

“If the authorities remain insensitive to the expression of protests, it is a very bad sign, a sign of the authorities’ inability to adjust themselves,” the patriarch said in the interview.

He suggested that Russia was at a dangerous moment in its history, offered oblique criticism of the government and said that the church could not take sides in the dispute.

“If demonstrations ahead of the 1917 revolution had ended in the expression of peaceful protests and had not led to a bloody revolution and a fratricidal war, Russia would have had a more than 300 million population and would have challenged or maybe even surpassed the United States from the point of view of economic development,” the patriarch said.

“Back then, we failed to preserve the balance and wisdom. We destroyed our country. Why did it happen? Because people’s protests, often fair, are very skillfully exploited by power-seeking political forces.”

The protests that helped bring down the Soviet Union also had unforeseen consequences, he said. “So what happened? They seized power and replaced black Volgas with black Mercedes cars, installed flashing lights and divided the country’s resources.”

Kudrin, who on Friday reiterated his view that the elections should be redone, on Saturday repeated his earlier advice that Vladimir Churov, head of the election commission, should resign.

“Distrust in Churov causes distrust in the March 4 election,” Kudrin wrote. “He will let the government down if he does not step down voluntarily.”

Putin is expected to win the presidency, but some of his supporters fear the election will look illegitimate, even if it is run fairly, unless drastic action is taken to restore confidence.

The country has been on a national vacation since New Year’s Eve, and normal life resumes Tuesday — when the next steps in the Russian drama are expected to begin unfolding.

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