MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin accused Russia's opposition on Wednesday of plotting dirty tricks to discredit his likely victory in weekend presidential polls, saying they must "submit" to the majority in the vote.
Putin attacked Russia's nascent protest movement with characteristic venom in a display of confidence ahead of Sunday's election in which the current premier is expected to regain the Kremlin post he held in 2000-2008.
He alleged that activists were planning to stuff ballots themselves in a deliberate ploy to delegitimise the vote. Allegations of vote-rigging sparked mass protests against his rule after the December 4 parliamentary election.
"The main rule is to respect the view of the minority, but to submit to the opinion of the majority," Putin said at a meeting with supporters in Moscow at the vast Manezh exhibition centre just outside the Kremlin walls.
"People who talk about the need to strengthen democratic institutions must themselves obey these rules. The minority must not impose its will on the majority," he said.
Putin then went one step further, suggesting his foes were "looking for a so-called sacrificial victim" whose death in violent street protests could be blamed on the government.
"They will -- let's say -- bump him off themselves and then blame it on the authorities. That is the type of people they are. They are capable of anything."
Putin has rarely been afraid to mince words when dealing with opponents during his 12-year domination of Russia and had previously accused the youth-driven opposition movement of being sponsored by the US State Department.
But the former KGB spy had never before accused his domestic foes of plotting violence and his comments represented an escalation of tone four days ahead of the vote.
Putin's comments suggest the authorities are fearful the opposition might one day rally around a figure like the Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation helped spark the revolts that led to the Arab Spring.
Opinion polls have predicted that Putin should win in the first round with up to 60 percent of the vote but the opposition has complained that the election has been skewed in his favour from the start.
But Putin has expressed fury at the opposition for declaring the election "illegitimate in advance" and said the authorities had proof that dirty tricks were being prepared.
Top Russian officials and the state media have since Tuesday been waging an apparent concerted campaign to cast early doubts on any future allegations of ballot fraud that may lead to post-election protests.
Several members of the opposition have already denounced the vote as illegitimate because it excluded all their leaders and have vowed to lead tens of thousands on to the streets on Monday evening.
Russia's Channel One television station led its Wednesday morning news with a report about the election fraud that was allegedly being plotted in Moscow by Putin's young opponents.
It showed a teenage couple with the opposition's white ribbon symbols pinned to their chests telling the camera they were detained while trying to distribute write-in ballots to supporters and plotting other voting offences.
The report came one day after Russia's election commission chief Vladimir Churov drew attention to an Internet site featuring a video he said was prepared by the opposition.
The site showed a mobile phone camera capturing staged footage of violations being committed in Putin's favour by Moscow election authorities on what was meant to look like election day.
Russia's booming blogging community reacted with scepticism to the video -- posted on YouTube by user 4marchVideo -- and called it an attempt to discredit any future evidence of fraud being committed on Sunday.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »