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5th Mar 2024

EU institutions back Putin despite vote-rigging

  • Barroso and Putin (c) in Brussels last year: 'There will continue to be contacts and indeed meetings at the highest level' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU institutions have said it is business as usual with Russian leader Vladimir Putin despite questioning the legitimacy of his re-election.

Foreign relations spokeswoman Maja Kocjanic told press in Brussels on Monday (4 February): "The EU looks forward to working with the new Russian President and the Russian government in full support of Russia's modernisation agenda and trusts that the Russian leader is ready to take this forward."

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She made the endorsement despite acknowledging that international monitors from the Vienna-based democracy watchdog, the OSCE, have said the election was fixed.

The OSCE mission just a few minutes before the EU press briefing had complained that the vote-count was suspect in more than one third of ballot stations and that state media was biased in favour of Putin in the run-up to the event. It added that voters' choice was limited, with none of the main opposition candidates even allowed to run.

"Overall, we share their assessment," Kocjancic said.

For its part, the Russian Central Election Commission said Putin won by 64 percent.

The number is more credible than, for instance, the 97 percent claimed by Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in his election last month. But Putin out-Berdymukhamedoved Berdymukhamedov in some regions, claiming 99.8% in Chechnya and 100% in one village in the Bryansk region.

Independent Russian monitoring group Golos said he really got about 50 percent overall.

The leader of the Liberal group in the EU parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, who went to Moscow on Monday to show support for anti-Putin protesters, was alone in calling for an overhaul of EU-Russia relations.

"There can be no business as usual with a country that disregards basic democratic principles," he said in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, EU parliament chief Martin Schulz, a German Socialist, took the line that "Russia is a strategic partner" and that "We should work towards improving our ties, including in trade, energy security and global stability."

European Commission spokeswoman Pia Arkenhilde said commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso will formally congratulate Putin later in the day: "I think you know how close our relations are with the Russian President. There will continue to be contacts and indeed meetings at the highest level."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Siebert also said she will call Putin on Monday to "wish him success in his next mandate."

A British government spokesman highlighted the fact even Golos said Putin got more than 50 percent: "It is clear that the election has delivered a decisive result."

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