Putin, in First Remarks on Russian Protests, Warns of Potential Chaos

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a conference on Arctic issues in Arkhangelsk, Russia, on Thursday.

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Pool photo by Sergei Karpukhin

ARKHANGELSK, Russia — Breaking five days of silence — and a virtual Soviet-style blackout on state news media — over the biggest protests in Russia in years, President Vladimir V. Putin responded publicly on Thursday to the nationwide anticorruption demonstrations with a familiar message: après moi, le déluge.

Speaking in the northern port of Arkhangelsk at an international forum on Arctic issues, Mr. Putin defended his record on fighting corruption and warned that such outbursts, if uncontained, could lead to chaos akin to that spawned by the Arab Spring uprisings.

Mr. Putin did not mention Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader who called for the demonstrations and who would like to oppose the president in the March 2018 election. But Mr. Putin left little doubt to what, or to whom, he was referring when he called the marches part of a presidential campaign.

After accusing unidentified “political forces” of using public concern about corruption to promote their own “selfish interests,” Mr. Putin said this would only end in chaos if allowed to continue.

“We well know, and I want to direct your attention to the fact, that this instrument was used in the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring. We know very well what this led to, to what bloody events it led to in this region,” he said. “We likewise know very well that this was one of the inciting motives and pretexts for the coup d’état in Ukraine. We also know well into what chaos these events sunk our neighbor, Ukraine.”

Presiding over what some critics portray as a Mafia-like government that has conferred vast riches on a select few friends and associates of the president, Mr. Putin presented…

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