MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he is ready for dialogue with the country's newly energized opposition forces but doubts whether their leaders want to talk, according to Russian news reports.
Putin met with top editors of Russian news media and was asked if he is ready for dialogue in the wake of the massive protests that erupted over allegations of vote fraud in last month's parliamentary election.
Putin said some figures had been invited for talks "not long ago" but did not come.
"This question occurs to me — what do they want? Do they want to show that there are no discussions or that they do not want to discuss," Putin was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.
"We're ready, and I am personally ready to meet with them, to talk. We invited them, but they did not come even one time," he said.
It was not clear from the reports specifically who had been invited or when the invitations were issued.
Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, now seeks to return to the Kremlin in an election on March 4. Although he is seen as almost certain to win, his image has taken a significant blow from the protests, including two rallies in Moscow that attracted tens of thousands of people in the largest public show of discontent in post-Soviet Russia.
Putin has belittled the protesters, dismissing them as Western stooges, and he has firmly rejected opposition demands that the parliamentary election be negated and a new one conducted.
In late December, he had appeared to effectively reject talks with the opposition, saying they had no common platform or leadership, so "who is there to talk to?"