By Christian Lowe 1 hour, 1 minute ago
Russia's parliament alleged on Friday that the United States was helping train radical political groups which threatened the country's stability in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections.
A coalition of Kremlin critics said the allegations were designed to discredit it on the eve of a protest against President Vladimir Putin's rule it is planning to stage in Moscow, in defiance of a police ban.
The State Duma, the lower house of parliament which is dominated by Kremlin supporters, unanimously passed a motion in which alleged U.S. officials took part in events "whose organizers include openly extremist forces."
"Under the guise of helping the conduct of a free and fair election ... U.S. taxpayers' money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events which propagandize tendentious assessments that distort the situation ... in Russia," said the motion.
The "Other Russia" opposition coalition has said it expects about 5,000 supporters to gather in central Moscow on Saturday for a rally to protest at what it calls the crushing of democratic freedoms under Putin.
Police have warned they will act decisively to prevent any illegal action. The protest organizers have said they fear police actions could lead to violence.
"Other Russia" -- led by chess champion Garry Kasparov and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov -- has marginal influence in a country where the vast majority back Putin and credit him with bringing economic growth and political stability.
But the Kremlin and its supporters say the group is trying to sabotage that stability in the run-up to a parliamentary election in December and a 2008 presidential vote when Putin will step down.
The allegations of U.S. meddling "provide a pretext to accuse the democratic opposition of being agents of the West, fifth columnists, and that we live and work on the money of the State Department," said opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov.
"This is the Kremlin's theme number one on the eve of tomorrow's march. It is in their interest to paint the whole opposition as U.S. agents," Ryzhkov, one of the leaders of "Other Russia," told Reuters.
A statement by Russian multi-millionaire Boris Berezovsky, made in an interview published on Friday, that he wanted to topple Putin in a revolution, is also likely to discredit legitimate opposition forces, said Ryzhkov.
Earlier on Friday, the Federation Council, or upper house of parliament, passed a motion of its own censuring the U.S. State Department for a report last month that was critical of Russia's record on human rights and democratic freedoms.
On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry accused the United States of meddling in domestic politics and a pro-Kremlin youth organization staged a protest outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow.