West condemns Putin re-election as violating ‘civil and political rights’

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Western nations have condemned Russia’s presidential election as violating “civil and political rights”, as the EU moved to impose new sanctions on Moscow in response to the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

This weekend’s vote, which saw Vladimir Putin win a new six-year term in the Kremlin, “took place in a highly restricted environment”, the EU said in a statement on Monday.

“Russian authorities have continued to increase the systematic internal repression . . . which has resulted in an alarming increase of violations of civil and political rights,” it added.

On Monday, Olaf Scholz’s spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said: “Russia is a dictatorship and is ruled in an authoritarian manner by Vladimir Putin.”

Russia banned opposition parties and outlawed any criticism of Putin or his war in Ukraine. Near-complete results from the country’s electoral commission said he won a record 87 per cent of the vote on a record turnout of 77.5 per cent.

The result extends his almost quarter-century rule to 2030.

“The conditions for a free, pluralist and democratic election have once again not been met,” France’s foreign ministry said, as it condemned Moscow’s decision to stage the election in five Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.

UK foreign secretary David Cameron said: “Putin removes his political opponents, controls the media, and then crowns himself the winner. This is not democracy.”

EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on Monday will agree sanctions against those involved in Navalny’s death, which the bloc said was “yet another sign of the accelerating and systematic repression” in the country. The measures will mirror those already imposed by the US and UK.

“This has not been a free and fair election,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, told reporters ahead of the meeting. “In a highly restrictive environment . . . this election has been based on repression and intimidation.”

Yulia Navalnaya, the anti-corruption activist’s widow, told reporters she had written in her husband’s name on the ballot after voting in Berlin on Sunday, and blamed Putin for his death. She has called on western governments not to recognise the results of Russia’s election.

“It can’t be that a month before the election, in the middle of the presidential campaign, Putin’s main opponent, who was already in prison, was killed,” she said.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, dismissed Navalnaya’s suggestion on Monday.

“If we are talking about the elections in our country being illegitimate, then we probably have to say the votes of 87 per cent of the population of our country that were made for president Putin are illegitimate. That’s absurd,” Peskov said.

He added that Navalnaya was “one of those people who are losing their roots, their ties to their motherland, their feel for their country and their grip on its pulse.”

Putin late on Sunday claimed he had agreed to an “idea” to release Navalny in a prisoner exchange not long before the activist’s death. “It happens. What can you do? That’s life,” he said.

The Russian leader dismissed western criticism of the election and said the high turnout showed an overwhelming public support for his invasion of Ukraine.

“The reaction from certain foreign countries is to be expected,” Putin said. “What did you want? For them to get up and applaud? They are in conflict with us, an armed one . . . they are making it their goal to contain our development. Of course, they will tell you anything.”

Putin also claimed the Russian elections were more democratic than in the US, criticised the numerous criminal proceedings against former president Donald Trump, and said the Kremlin’s online system was more transparent than US voting by mail.

“This has just become a joke and a disgrace before the whole world for the US and your so-called democratic system,” Putin said. “There is no democracy to be seen, at least in the election processes, in certain western countries, including the US.”

Baltic foreign ministers also condemned Putin for staging his re-election.

“Putin just arranged the elections to make sure that he is in power for another six more years. They will not change course. Russia will not stop, it needs to be stopped,” said Krišjānis Kariņš, the Latvian foreign minister, as he arrived in Brussels.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba were set to join the EU foreign ministers meeting via video conference on Monday.


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