Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny was being supported by the United States in his election bid.
Putin made the comments, without providing evidence, on January 11 during a televised meeting with top editors and executives from several Russian media outlets.
Navalny, a charismatic lawyer who has built a national following on his campaign to root out government corruption, has been barred by election officials from standing in the March 18 presidential vote, due to a suspended prison sentence. He and his supporters say the prosecution was trumped up and politically motivated.
The United States and European Union condemned the decision to keep Navalny out of the race.
Asked about U.S. criticism of the decision, and allegations that Russia had meddled in U.S. elections, Putin asserted it was the United States who was meddling in Russian affairs. He also avoided even mentioning Navalny by name, something he has sidestepped for months now.
"The individual you mentioned, he is not the only one who hasn't been allowed [to run]. For some reason they aren't talking about the other people," Putin said.
"This obviously shows the preferences of the U.S. administration when it comes to who they want to lead other countries, who they want to move forward in Russian politics, and who they'd like to see in the country's leadership."
Putin is widely expected to win another six-year term.