Friday 20 July 2018

Europe split on Putin's victory as vote-rigging claims surround ballot

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with one of his defeated opponents, Ksenia Sobchak. Photo: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with one of his defeated opponents, Ksenia Sobchak. Photo: Reuters

Alec Luhn

Angela Merkel was one of the few leaders to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his victory in Sunday's election as Europe split over its reaction amid allegations of vote-rigging.

In a telegram, the German chancellor wished Mr Putin "success in the tasks ahead" and said they should "continue the dialogue with one another and to foster relations between our states and peoples".

Mrs Merkel is under pressure from German supporters of a gas pipeline deal with Russia, and faces a domestic opposition that is warm to Mr Putin in the form of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, on the other hand, telephoned Mr Putin yesterday, but a readout of the call avoided the term "congratulated".

Instead, it said Mr Macron wished "Russian people" success in modernising their country.

What followed was a laundry list of concerns about Russia's role in the conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine.

Mr Macron also urged Mr Putin to "shed all light on responsibilities linked with the unacceptable Salisbury attack."

After the vote on Sunday, Mr Putin denied Russia had any role in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former double agent.

Other western European states were largely silent on Mr Putin's re-election, as was the US, which adopted new sanctions against Russian citizens and entities over interference in the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Serbia, Belarus, Iran, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba praised Mr Putin's victory.

Xi Jinping, China's president, sent a congratulatory message and said he was ready to bring bilateral relations "to a higher level".

At a meeting yesterday with the candidates he had defeated the day before, Mr Putin said "no one is planning to accelerate some kind of arms race" and called for developing "constructive" relations with other countries.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticised the election for lacking "real choice", saying many Russians had been pressured to vote and media had failed to cover the race critically.

Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who called for a boycott after he was barred from running, accused the authorities of electoral fraud and said Mr Putin had actually received fewer votes than in the 2012 election.

An independent analysis of the results reported by all polling stations suggested that nearly 10 million votes had been falsified for Mr Putin to propel him to his fourth term.

With nearly 77pc of the vote - his highest-ever share - he is all but guaranteed another six years in power. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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