Vladimir Putin has acknowledged the growing discontent among middle-class Russians and promised to make the country more democratic.
In an article for the respected daily newspaper Kommersant, the Prime Minister wrote that Russia hadbecome wealthier and more orderly over the past decade. He admitted, however, that this process had in part led to the increased civil activism of recent months, in which tens of thousands of Muscovites have come come on to the streets to demand fairer elections and a more democratic political process.
"Our civil society has become incomparably more mature, active and responsible," Mr Putin said. "We need to renew the mechanisms of our democracy – they need to catch up to growing public activity."
Although he did not explicitly mention the street protests, which continued at the weekend, Mr Putin's tone has changed remarkably since he first spoke about the rallies six weeks ago and suggested protesters were being manipulated by foreign governments.
But he warned Russians not to expect wholesale changes overnight, and again cautioned against the dangers of copying Western democracy. "Real democracy is not created in an instant and cannot be copied from an external model," he wrote.
After a four years as Prime Minister, Mr Putin is standing for a return to the Kremlin in presidential elections next month. He is almost guaranteed to win but the growing protest movement has raised questions about how emphatic his victory will be.
"This kind of statement shows the period of 'imitation democracy' is continuing," wrote Kommersant's chief political editor in a comment. He suggested the gist of the article was: "You can talk all you want, but we'll do the deciding."