Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of stirring the pot in Moscow through funding protests over its recent parliamentary vote.
Thousands have been gathering daily this week to demonstrate against the results of the country's elections which took place on Sunday, and which protesters claim were rigged.
Putin's ruling United Russia party held on to its parliamentary majority, but just barely, with a 49.5 percent of 238 seats in the 450-seat Duma. Protesters insisted the party was guilty of ballot box stuffing and voter fraud, and called the prime minister "a crook and a thief."
Putin expects to return as president next year, while the current President Dmitry Medvedev switches back to his former post as prime minister. Formal presidential elections in Russia are set to be held on March 4, 2012, although the outcome is already basically considered to be a 'done deal.'
But although it appears his popularity is clearly waning, he laid the blame at America's doorstep, and accused U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of meddling in the country's affairs by openly backing the Kremlin's opposition in the vote.
Clinton, who called for a "full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation," was targeted by Putin as the cause for much of the voter dissatisfaction. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner added further fuel to the fire on Wednesday with a statement expressing concern over the treatment of those who were arrested for peacefully protesting the results of the elections.
However, even Putin's own district rejected his party, giving it less than 24 percent of the vote and bringing it to a second-place finish.
"She set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work," said Putin, targeting Clinton in his first public remarks addressing the daily protests since the election.
Most Russians, he added, do not want political upheaval. He pointedly accused the United States of fomenting dissent among activists who he said were pursuing their own political agendas.
"We are all adults here and we understand that some ... of the organizers act in accordance with a well-known scenario and in their own mercenary political interests," Putin claimed.
But former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev advised that it would make more sense to simply annul the elections and and hold a new poll, rather than risk facing a scenario similar to that currently sweeping the Middle East as a result of the 'Arab Spring.'