Putin claims a new six-year term in vote condemned as not free or fair



MOSCOW — In a display of defiance against mounting reports of electoral fraud and Western criticism calling his election illegitimate, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the stage on Moscow’s Red Square on Monday evening to celebrate the claimed landslide victory he was always intended to win.

Flanked by his handpicked rival candidates at an event marking 10 years since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, Putin led the thousands-strong crowd in a rendition of Russia’s national anthem.

“Crimea is not only a strategically important territory, with important history and traditions. Crimea is first of all people. Sevastopol residents, Crimeans. They are our pride,” Putin said, pledging to build a railroad connecting Russia with Crimea through Donetsk and Mariupol, other Ukrainian territories illegally occupied and annexed by Russia.

The astronomical election results, almost 90 percent, have drawn comparison with other rogue, internationally isolated dictators who blatantly manipulate electoral results to secure their power.

President Vladimir Putin claimed a landslide victory in Russia’s pseudo election on March 17 as thousands of his opponents protested at polling stations. (Video: Reuters)

Western nations, including the United States, flocked to condemn the results, which were marred by protests and cases of voting fraud.

“Russia’s election was an election without choice,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at the start of a summit of European Foreign Ministers in Brussels on Monday, asserting that the Russian election was not a real election. She said that the European Union would formulate new sanctions against Russia.

In a column for The Telegraph, British Defense Minister Grant Shapps said Putin is behaving like a “modern-day Stalin” after winning an election in which he had practically no opponents.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani wrote that the elections were “neither free nor regular” and that they had been held in “illegally occupied Ukrainian territories.”

The Russian electoral watchdog, Golos, which has monitored elections in Russia for 20 years, said in a statement Monday that “never before have we seen a presidential campaign that was so inconsistent with constitutional standards.”

“The elections took place in conditions where the state apparatus, which is obliged to be politically neutral and act in the interests of society, actually became involved in propaganda, coercion and control over voters” read the statement. “Military censorship actually arose in the country which was implemented through fear and force.”

Golos added that politics in Russia have ceased to be a subject of discussion, “even with neighbors and loved ones.”

The country’s Central Election Commission claimed that in occupied areas of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Putin won 88.12 percent and 92.95 percent of votes respectively. Russia controls only parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — two of four Ukrainian regions it claims illegally to have annexed — and many residents are displaced. In those occupied areas Russian electoral teams accompanied by soldiers forced residents to cast ballots at gunpoint.

Local residents in Avdiivka, in Russian-controlled Ukraine, casted their votes under the watch of heavily armed soldiers during Russia’s presidential election. (Video: The Washington Post)

In Russia, voting took place from Friday through Sunday, a three-day window that critics said provided ample opportunity for fraud and manipulation. In many regions, voters were encouraged to use an opaque online voting system with no mechanism to assure accuracy or safeguard against cheating.

Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta estimated that 31.6 million fake votes — almost half the total number of votes cast — were added to the count.

In remarks after midnight following the release of preliminary results late Sunday, Putin claimed broad public support and made clear that he would continue the war in Ukraine.

At Monday’s massive concert in Red Square presenters onstage praised the election’s record turnout.

“I don’t remember the last time we have such a high turnout … even those who didn’t want to vote turned up,” said Ruslan Ostashko, a Russian TV presenter, apparently referring to the long lines of anti-Putin protesters who gathered at midday in a protest vote.

“My friends, in both Crimea and Sevastopol, more than 90 percent of voters voted for Putin, because he is our president and we trust in him,” added Yulia Baranovskaya, Ostashko’s co-presenter.

Putin, who took power upon Boris Yeltsin’s resignation on Dec. 31, 1999, has defied term limits since 2008, when, after serving the maximum two full terms, he swapped jobs with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Four years later, they swapped again. In 2020, Putin engineered constitutional amendments allowing him to rule until 2036.

The three-day vote took place one month after the sudden death of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most formidable political rival, in an Arctic prison colony.

The election was marked by signs of public fury, with several Russian citizens setting fire to voting urns and polling stations, and throwing liquid dye on ballots. On Sunday, thousands of people in Russia and abroad joined a noon protest, forming long lines at polling stations to vote against Putin. Navalny had called for the midday action before he died.

Meanwhile on Monday, six people died and eight were injured in a strike in Belgorod, the Russian city on the border with Ukraine where Ukrainian attacks have intensified in recent days, authorities said. According to the region’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, a shell hit a private residential building in the village of Nikolskoye, killing four members of a family. A fifth member, a girl, survived.

“The girl is under the close attention of doctors in intensive care under a ventilator. She has a closed craniocerebral injury,” Gladkov said Monday evening.

Voters in Russia held “Noon Against Putin” protests outside polling stations on March 17, the final day of the presidential election. (Video: Naomi Schanen/The Washington Post)


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