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During Call-In Show, Vladimir Putin Dimisses Russian Protesters

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual phone-in session with Russians in Moscow.
Alexei Nikolsky
AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual phone-in session with Russians in Moscow.

During a call-in show, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the massive protests against his 12-year rule were paid for by his opposition and supported by the West.

The AP reports:

"'The results of this election undoubtedly reflect the real balance of power in the country," Putin said on a marathon TV show that lasted 4 1/2 hours. "It's very good that United Russia has preserved its leading position.'

"Yet in a characteristic move, he accused protest organizers of working to destabilize the country on orders from the West. 'That's a well-organized pattern of destabilizing society,' Putin said.

Reuters reportsthat Putin also offered some back-handed compliments to protesters.

"I saw on people on the TV screens ... mostly young people, active and with positions that they expressed clearly," Putin said according to Reuters. "This makes me happy, and if that is the result of the Putin regime, that's good — there's nothing bad about it."

"They will at least make some money," he added.

Putin went on to say that when he saw the massive protest this past Saturday, he was confused by the white ribbons worn by protesters. The Moscow Times reports he said he thought they were wearing anti-AIDS ribbons and that it looked like demonstrators had put on "some condoms."

Putin's comments are likely to fuel further protests. The demonstrations are seen as a serious challenge to his rule and the largest of their kind since the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin is in a tough position: Despite accusations of fraud, his party suffered major losses during this month's election. The discontent might extend to his presidential bid early next year.

Reuters reports that Russians on Twitter expressed dismay at his speech and that "a doctored photo was soon doing the rounds on the Internet, with Putin wearing a condom on his chest instead of a medal."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.