MOSCOW — With opposition groups still furious over parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by cheating, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putinon Thursday accused Secretary of StateHillary Rodham Clinton of instigating protests by baselessly criticizing the vote as “dishonest and unfair” and he warned thatRussia needed to protect against “interference” by foreign governments in its internal affairs.
Alexey Druzhinin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners,” Mr. Putin said in remarks to political allies. “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,” Mr. Putin continued. “They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”
Mr. Putin’s assertions of foreign meddling and his vow to protect Russian “sovereignty” came after three days in which the Russian authorities have moved forcefully to tamp down on efforts to protest the elections, arresting hundreds of demonstrators and deploying legions of pro-Kremlin young people in Moscow to occupy public squares and to chant, beat drums and drown out the opposition.
The crackdown on the protests, as well as the arrest and jailing of some opposition leaders, has stoked further outrage and drawn international condemnation.
Another major opposition demonstration is being planned for Saturday in central Moscow, and while Mr. Putin said that lawful rallies should be permitted, his warnings about foreign interference suggested that the government would view the ongoing protests over the elections as a threat and would take further steps to contain them.
“We have to protect our sovereignty and it is necessary to think about improving the law and toughening responsibility for those who take orders from foreign states to influence internal political processes,” Mr. Putin said.
Speaking specifically about street demonstrations, he said, “If people act within the framework of the law, they should be entitled to express their opinion” but he added, “If someone breaks the law, the authorities and law enforcement agencies need to demand that the law be followed, using any legal means.”
Large contingents of riot police remain deployed in Moscow, as part of what officials had described as a period of heightened security around the elections.
The governing party, United Russia, which has nominated Mr. Putin for president, lost a surprising number of seats in Sunday’s elections. Opposition groups say those losses would have been even steeper were it not for the violations cited by election observers, including the brazen stuffing of ballot boxes at some polling stations.
Mrs. Clinton issued her first comments on the election on Monday, after a preliminary report was released by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The observers issued a scathing report in which they said their main concerns were deep structural problems, including no separation between the government and the political party.
Petros Efthymiou, a coordinator of the observer mission, cited “the interference of the state in all levels of political life, the lack of necessary conditions for a fair competition and no independence of the media.”
There were some predictions on Thursday that outrage over the election results would continue to grow.
“The protest mood is very widespread,” said Sergei A. Markov, a political analyst connected to the Kremlin and former member of Parliament with United Russia. “Especially in Moscow and Petersburg, people are broadly convinced that there was falsification.”
But Mr. Markov said that efforts to mobilize public would have to battle against deeply entrenched skepticism that street protests will amount to much. “In Russia, people are strongly convinced that if there are protests, then nothing good will come out of them.”
And Mr. Markov said he expected the government to treat the public like a whining child. “The authorities will attempt to conduct themselves with society as a parent would a child who is crying and demanding some kind of toy,” he said. “In this case, it is not correct to go out and buy the child a toy, but rather distract him with something else.”
Mr. Putin’s accusations of foreign meddling could provide that distraction.
Government officials had previously accused Golos, the only independent election monitoring group in Russia, of being financed partly by the United States and other Western countries, and of aiding foreign nations in meddling in Russia’s affairs.