Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said today that the results of Russia's parliamentary elections reflected the people's will, and that the opposition had alleged voting fraud purely to strengthen its position.
"The results of this election undoubtedly reflect the real balance of power in the country," he said. "It's very good that United Russia has preserved its leading position."
He added that a drop in support for his party was a natural result of the global financial crisis of 2008 that has taken its toll on the country.
United Russia lost about 20% of its seats in the election and no longer has the two-thirds majority that allowed it to change the constitution at will in the previous parliament. It barely retained a majority in the State Duma, and opposition parties and some vote monitors said that even that result was inflated by ballot-stuffing and other violations.
Mr Putin brushed off the vote fraud claims as part of the opposition's struggle for power, and said that any complaints should go to the courts. He alleged that some of the protest leaders have been acting at Western behest to weaken Russia.
"The opposition goal is to fight for power, and it's looking for every chance to advance," he said, insisting that the vote results genuinely reflected the people's will.
Mr Putin also sought a positive spin on last weekend's protest against vote fraud, that drew tens of thousands in the greatest challenge to his dozen years in power, saying he was glad to see a rise in public activity as a result of his rule.
The unprecedented wave of protest poses a significant challenge to Mr Putin less than three months before presidential elections in which he seeks to return to the Kremlin.
He sought to counter public discontent with the alleged fraud by proposing to place web cameras at each of Russia's more than 90,000 polling stations for the March 4 presidential vote.
"Let them be there next to every ballot box to avoid any falsifications," he said.
The opposition is calling for an annulment of the December 4 parliamentary election, and the holding of a new vote. Mr Putin's insistence that the election was valid indicates no immediate resolution to the political tensions is in sight.
The opposition has been energised by the huge turnout at the Moscow protest and simultaneous rallies in some 60 other cities.