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US denies sending ‘signal’ for Russian protests

The United States on Thursday dismissed charges by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that it provoked post-election protests, saying that funding by Washington goes only to strengthening democracy.

Putin, facing a surprise challenge to his political domination, accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of sending a “signal” that set off protests and funding Russian NGOs with an aim to question the election.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters, expanding on Clinton’s response earlier Thursday in Brussels where she said she supported the rights of the Russian people.

US programs “are designed to support a more transparent, free and fair electoral process. They’re not about favoring any political group or any political agenda more than any other agenda,” Toner said.

“We’ve stood up, as we have elsewhere in the world, and continue to stand for the right for people to peacefully express their views and their democratic aspirations,” Toner said. “There’s no ‘signaling’ involved.”

Clinton angered Russia by questioning the fairness of Sunday’s election, which was won by Putin’s United Russia party but with a reduced majority.

The opposition says the results would have been far worse in free polls and have staged Russia’s biggest protests in years.

In rhetoric harking back to the Cold War, Putin said that Russia would hold to account those who “dance to the tune of a foreign state.”