Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seeking a historic third term as president, has acknowledged that Russians want more say in government and the need to renew the country's political system.
In an article published Monday in the Kommersant daily newspaper, Putin admitted that the government has fallen behind the people's demands for a stronger voice in it.
He said Russia's civil society has become "incomparably more mature, active and responsible" and that the government must catch up to growing public activity. But he cautioned against looking to any external model, and insisted the country needs a strong federal center.
Monday's article follows a mass rally on Saturday where tens of thousands of people took to the streets behind banners reading "Russia Without Putin." Others turned out in support of the government. Polls show that Putin is likely to win the March 4 presidential election.
Russians have staged mass protests since December's parliamentary elections, claiming fraud in favor of Putin's United Russia party. They also accuse President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin of "hijacking" the March presidential vote after Medvedev agreed not to run and allow Putin to return to the presidency.
Since then, Putin and President Medvedev have promised to allow more political parties and to reinstate direct elections of regional governors.
Putin served two presidential terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister. Moscow has since extended the presidential term to six years. If he regains the presidency, the 59-year-old leader could remain in power until 2024.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.