ARKHANGELSK (Russia) • Breaking five days of silence - and a virtual Soviet-style blackout on state media - over the biggest protests in Russia in years, President Vladimir Putin has responded publicly to nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations with a familiar message - "after me, the deluge".
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.
He did not mention Mr Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who called for the demonstrations and who would like to oppose the President in the election in March next year. But he left little doubt as to what or 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 end only 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'etat in Ukraine. We also know well into what chaos these events sunk our neighbour, Ukraine."
Mr Putin presented himself as a stalwart corruption fighter in answer to questions by Mr Geoff Cutmore of CNBC, who moderated the closing session of the forum.
"Personally, I am in favour of having questions about the fight against corruption always at the centre of public attention," he said.
Mr Putin is expected to win a fourth term handily, even though he has yet to confirm that he will run for re-election.