Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating social unrest on Russia's streets after last Sunday's disputed parliamentary election in a Cold War-style outburst certain to damage US-Russia relations.
In his first comments on recent anti-Kremlin protests, the Russian prime minister went on the attack, alleging that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had encouraged his political opponents to take to the streets in Moscow and St Petersburg.
"She sent a signal to some activists inside the country," Mr Putin told a meeting of his supporters.
Furious with Mrs Clinton's repeated criticism of the election as neither free nor fair, Mr Putin suggested that Washington was funding his opponents in order to interfere in Russia's internal affairs.
"Pouring foreign money into electoral processes is particularly unacceptable," he said. "Hundreds of millions are being invested in this work. We need to work out ways to protect our sovereignty and to defend ourselves from outside interference."
Mr Putin resorted to Cold War rhetoric, claiming that Washington was wary of Russia because of its nuclear arsenal. "They are trying to shake us up so that we do not forget who is boss on the planet," he said.
In Brussels for a Nato meeting, Mrs Clinton refused to back down when asked to respond to Mr Putin's comments. "We expressed concerns we thought were well-founded about the conduct of the elections," she said.
About 1,000 protesters have been arrested since the election in which Mr Putin's United Russia party suffered a 15pc drop in support despite credible claims of massive vote-rigging.
A Russian election monitoring group claimed yesterday that United Russia had in fact had 20pc less than the 49.3pc it allegedly won.
Anti-Kremlin activists are planning a big nationwide protest tomorrow, the centrepiece of which is a large rally in Moscow.
Mr Putin insisted that the Russian people did not want a revolution, making it clear that he would not tolerate any unrest or allow the protests to get out of hand.
"You and I know that in our country people do not want the situation to develop like it did in Kyrgyzstan or in the recent past in Ukraine," he said, referring to mass street demonstrations that brought down those countries' governments. "Nobody wants chaos". (© Daily Telegraph, London)