MOSCOW -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, facing the possibility of nationwide protests against his rule, on Thursday accused U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of instigating demonstrators in the wake of the disputed parliamentary election.
The comments came as opposition supporters largely stayed off the streets after three nights of sizeable protests. No protests were seen in Moscow and only a small one where 10 people were arrested was reported in St. Petersburg.
But the wave of discontent -- which has already undercut Putin's public persona of being both strong and beloved -- may be far from cresting. More than 30,000 people have promised on a Facebook page to attend a Saturday protest in Moscow and similar rallies have been called for more than 70 other cities.
Putin, in TV remarks, accused the U.S. of encouraging and funding the Russians protesting the alleged election fraud in Sunday's elections. By recently describing Russia's election as rigged, Clinton "gave a signal" to his opponents, said Putin, who also warned of a wider Russian crackdown on dissent.
"They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began their active work," Putin said. He said the United States is spending "hundreds of millions" of dollars to influence Russian politics with the aim of weakening a rival nuclear power.
Putin's tough words show the deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with the Kremlin.