Thousands of Russian activists have held a rally in Moscow in support of President Vladimir Putin. Many were protesting the pro-Western course taken by the government in neighboring Ukraine.
Saturday's rally by the so-called "anti-Maidan" movement marked the anniversary of the ouster of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was forced out of office last year on February 21 amid mass protests on Kyiv's Maidan square.
One of the movement's leaders, Nikolai Starikov, said on television that the rally was aimed at discouraging the pro-Western opposition in Russia from trying to bring about a similar change there.
"Don't even try," he said. "Don't make any attempts to rock the boat in Russia."
Eyewitnesses said many of the protesters carried banners supporting pro-Russian rebels who are waging an insurgency in eastern Ukraine against the Kyiv government.
Moscow police put the number of participants at the rally at 35,000. Russian state-controlled television said similar rallies had been held across the country.
'Lawlessness and injustice'
In a television interview, Yanukovych, who has been living in exile in Russia since his ouster, called on Kyiv to hold direct talks with the separatists in Ukraine, saying they must be given a high degree of autonomy.
He accused the Ukrainian administration of promoting "lawlessness and injustice" in the country, and said the West should take responsibility for the consequences of its actions.
"The West wanted this change and now it should be held liable for the results," he said.
Following Yanukovych's ouster, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and is accused by both the Kyiv government and many Western countries of aiding the rebels.
Moscow has always denied the accusations.
The Russian opposition is planning to hold a protest on March 1 against the Ukraine conflict. The rally is set to take place in the southeastern part of the Russian capital, as authorities have banned the demonstrators from marching in the city center.
tj/sms (AFP, dpa)