MOSCOW • Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday of inciting unrest in Russia, as he grappled with the prospect of large-scale political protest for the first time in his more than decade-long rule.
In a rare personal accusation, Putin said Clinton had sent "a signal" to 'some actors in our country" after Sunday's parliamentary elections, which have been condemned as fraudulent by both international and Russian observers. Anger over the elections prompted a demonstration in which thousands chanted "Putin is a thief" and "Russia without Putin," a development which has unnerved the Kremlin.
Speaking to political allies as he announced the formation of his presidential campaign, Putin said hundreds of millions in "foreign money" was being used to influence Russian politics and that Clinton herself had spurred protesters to action. The comments seemed to mark an end to the sputtering effort by the administration of President Barack Obama to "reset" the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
"I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners," Putin said. "The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers."
"She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal," Putin continued. "They heard the signal, and with the support of the U.S. State Department, began active work."
The remarks also suggested that Putin was struggling to regain his footing after his party, United Russia, suffered surprisingly big losses in the elections on Sunday. The party's poor showing was followed by a public outcry — first over the ballot tampering and in recent days over the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators who have taken to the streets in Moscow and other cities to complain.
Deeply wary of the forces of unrest unleashed in the Arab Spring, the Russian authorities have moved swiftly in recent days to contain the protests, deploying battalions of riot police and legions of pro-government young people to occupy public squares in Moscow and drown out the opposition.
Government opponents are now mobilizing a huge rally planned for Saturday in Moscow.
By Thursday evening, more than 30,000 people had clicked a Facebook page to say they would gather at Revolution Square, just outside the Kremlin. Even a large fraction of that number would make the rally the largest political protest since the fall of the Soviet Union.
"The protest mood is very widespread," said Sergei A. Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst and former United Russia lawmaker. "Especially in Moscow and Petersburg, people are broadly convinced that there was falsification."
Markov said the Kremlin was not likely to address the protesters' complaints.
Potential demonstrators adopted a white ribbon as a symbol of what is, as yet, an inchoate movement made up largely of first-time activists.