“She set the tone for some of our public figures inside the country, sent a signal to them. They heard this signal and launched active work with the U.S. State Department’s support,” he said.
Clinton, in Brussels attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, tried to strike a conciliatory note but did not back away from her 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 the elections.”
Although Russian officials regularly make critical remarks about the United States, and vice versa, Putin’s words were an escalation, harking back to the first years of his decade in power. But Russia watchers consider them aimed at domestic politics. Putin, they say, always needs an enemy as a foil.
Still, a serious rupture between the United States and Russia could have wide-reaching consequences. The reset in relations has brought the United States a number of rewards, including cooperation on fighting terrorism, permission to use Russian territory to supply troops in Afghanistan, agreement on the New START nuclear arms pact and cooperation on dealing with Iran.
And, as Putin reminded sternly Thursday, Russia is a nuclear nation with an attitude.
“We are a major nuclear power and remain such. And this causes some concerns for our partners,” he said, suggesting that the United States was throwing its weight around “so that we don’t forget who is the boss on our planet.”
From all appearances, Putin has been in utter control since assuming the presidency from Boris Yeltsin in 2000, even as he turned the office over to Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 because of term limits and became the power behind the throne as prime minister.
But cracks in the facade began to appear Sept. 24, when Medvedev informed Russians that he would return the crown to Putin, who would run for the presidency in March. Ordinary Russians who had given silent consent to Putin’s authority by ignoring it were insulted that their assent had been so carelessly assumed.
The week before the parliamentary elections, Putin made dark references to Golos, an independent election monitor, accusing it of acting for U.S. interests. He attacked Golos, critics said, to discredit eventual reports of fraudulent elections and prevent questions about the legitimacy of his party, United Russia, which controls not only the parliament but also local governments throughout the country.
Observers reported widespread irregularities after the vote, in which United Russia won just less than 50 percent. Monday night, about 5,000 protesters demonstrated against Putin and United Russia, crying fraud. The heavy police presence that accompanies any public gathering moved in, and about 300 were arrested.