Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that mass protests against his 12-year rule were being stoked by a hollow collection of leaderless opposition groups who wanted to sow chaos in Russia.
In his first comments since Saturday’s protest, Russia’s prime minister said it was impossible to annul the Dec. 4 parliamentary election - the opposition’s key demand - but promised the March presidential vote, in which he is running, would be transparent.
Comparing protesters to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Mr. Putin said they were more interested in sowing chaos than implementing a concrete set of ideas on how the world’s biggest energy producer should develop.
“The problem is that they have no single program,” the 59-year-old leader told top members of his All Russia People’s Front, an umbrella movement of supporters, at his presidential election campaign headquarters in Moscow.
“They have many individual programs, but no unified one and no clear way to reach their goals, which are also not clear, and there are no people who would be able to do anything concrete,” Putin said.
Facing the biggest protests since he rose to power in 1999, Russia’s most powerful politician has looked out of touch in recent weeks, dismissing thousands of protesters as chattering monkeys while offering gradual political reforms.
With supporters, Putin took the protests more seriously, saying his opponents deserved respect despite their hunger for what he termed “Brownian motion”, the apparently random movement of particles observed by Scottish scientist Robert Brown.
Putin continued a reshuffle of top advisers, moving the architect of his tightly controlled political system, Kremlin first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, to the government as a deputy prime minister in charge of modernization.
Mr. Surkov, whose move was formally approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, wielded immense influence behind the scenes and was branded as Kremlin “puppet master” by Russia’s third richest man, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, after a row in September.
Mr. Medvedev appointed Mr. Putin’s government chief of staff, Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav Volodin, in Mr. Surkov’s place, making him one of the most powerful men in Russian politics.
Mr. Putin presented himself as a leader able to ensure stability and protesters as spoilers bent on chaos, a potentially appealing strategy in a country which has been racked by crises and political chaos since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Putin, who polls show is Russia’s most popular politician, said that he had a solid agenda which included modernization of the $1.9 trillion economy and strengthening of defence.
He said protesters were trying to undermine the legitimacy of the parliamentary vote and called for a transparent presidential election.
“When this kind of situation emerges, there is always an attempt to devalue and undermine the legitimacy of everything that happened in the public sphere, including and, most of all, the electoral process,” he said.
“Therefore, everything must be done in order to ensure that elections are understandable, transparent and objective.”
Putin said his government would spend $500 million to install web cameras at all polling stations, an idea he first aired on Dec. 15, although some of his supporters argued it would do little to boost transparency.
Other allies of Mr. Putin, including trade union activists, industry workers and war veterans, complained to their boss about the methods used by the opposition, with some calling for tighter Internet regulation.
“I am outraged by what is happening on the Internet,” said retired metal industry worker Valery Yakushev, referring to derogatory comments about workers who expressed their support for Mr. Putin which have been circulating on the web.