Putin Says His Foes Are Using Protests to Destabilize Russia
MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia
delivered a mixed assessment on Thursday of a growing protest movement
against his government, praising a new class of young dissenters for
standing up for their beliefs, while suggesting that they were being
used as pawns by opposition leaders to destabilize the country.
“But allowing yourselves to be pulled into some kind of scheme for destabilizing society is impermissible,” he added.
They were his first detailed comments about the nascent protest movement, which culminated last weekend in a huge anti-Kremlin rally in Moscow that drew tens of thousands of people. The movement has posed the first major grass-roots challenge to Mr. Putin’s authority since he took power 12 years ago, and his government has not yet offered a clear strategy for dealing with it.
His remarks on Thursday seemed in part to be an effort to pit the protesters against a motley collection of opposition politicians, writers, bloggers and others who have been trying to guide the movement.
He singled out remarks by Aleksei Navalny, a popular anticorruption blogger around which the movement has begun to crystallize, who in a protest last week was caught on video apparently berating fellow demonstrators for not following him and referring to them as sheep.
“Can you really go around treating people like livestock?” Mr. Putin said. “People are not happy with the government, sure, but do they really want this kind of government?”
He suggested that some of the protesters at last weekend’s rally might
have been paid to be there, adding that he had no problem with students
earning a little money. There has been no evidence that this was in fact
the case, though government critics have long accused Mr. Putin’s
party, United Russia, of paying students and pensioners to attend
He also admitted to being confused by the white ribbon adopted by protesters as the symbol of their movement.