Vladimir Putin softened his tone towards the protesters who have staged the biggest political rallies of his 12-year rule, saying on Wednesday he was ready for dialogue with Russia’s opposition but was at a loss for a leader to hold talks with.
Tens of thousands gathered in central Moscow on Saturday to protest against election results that gave Putin’s United Russia party a majority in the lower house of parliament, or Duma. International monitors said the vote was marred by violations.
The demonstrators demanded a re-run of the election and a resignation of the Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov, Putin’s close ally.
The Kremlin flagged a series of political reforms aimed at pacifying the opposition but said there will not be a re-run of the election.
Putin, who initially dismissed the demonstrators as paid agents seeking to destabilize Russia in the interests of its external foes, has been gradually changing his tone, admitting that protesters “also deserved respect.”
“The dialogue should take place. In what form? I will think about it,” Putin said when he visited the government’s media centre to toast champagne with reporters ahead of the New Year holiday.
“They should formulate some kind of shared platform … Who do we talk to?” he said, adding that popular anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny was one of the leaders but there also were others.
Putin has held two meetings with his former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, seen by some opposition activists as the most acceptable face for dialogue among Putin’s inner circle, to discuss the protests.
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