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Europe's Reaction

DW staff (nda)
March 3, 2008

The balancing act between Europe and Russia took on a new aspect on Monday, Feb 4, after Dmitry Medvedev's presidential victory. While congratulations were in order, no-one wanted to wholly endorse the election.

Dmitry Medvedev, the man Vladimir Putin hand-picked to be his successor, speaks to the media during his news conference in Moscow
Together we shall win: Medvedev did just that but not all were happy with how he wonImage: AP

European leaders offered their congratulations to Russian President-Elect Dmitry Medvedev after his conclusive, if not wholly unexpected, victory in the country's presidential poll on Sunday.

However, as well as their best wishes, some leaders delivered their messages with a note of caution while some passed up the niceties altogether in favor of outright criticism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Medvedev on Monday but tempered her goodwill with regret over irregularities in the run-up to the vote, according to a statement from her office.

"The chancellor congratulates Dmitry Medvedev and looks forward to pursuing our extensive cooperation with Russia," government spokesman Thomas Steg said.

"It is without doubt the case that during the election campaign situations arose where it became clear that democratic rules were not always upheld,” he added. "The government made it clear in the run-up to Sunday's vote that we regret that the international observers could not carry out their job as well as one would wish.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin stand together during a signing ceremony of economic contracts at the German-Russian summit in Tomsk in 2006
Merkel wants relations to be as close as those with PutinImage: AP

"But this does not change the fact that following his election success, the chancellor wishes Mr. Medvedev good luck and success with the difficult task ahead," Steg said, adding that Merkel planned to speak with Medvedev and outgoing President Vladimir Putin "in person as soon as possible." He did not confirm press reports that they would meet on Saturday.

Steg stated that the German government saw Medvedev's overwhelming victory as "a sign of the Russian people's desire for continuity" and concluded by saying Merkel "welcomed the fact that Russia's future president has repeatedly signaled his intention to modernize the Russian state and to entrench the rule of law."

Britain to reserve judgment on Medvedev's Russia

Despite the recent breakdown in relations btween his country and Russia, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also sent his congratulations to Medvedev on Monday, while saying he would judge the new administration on its actions.

"We have always said that we will look for opportunities to improve our relationship with Russia, and hope to see greater Russian cooperation on a number of issues," a government spokesperson said, adding that Brown had written to Medvedev. "But we should judge the new government on its actions and the results of those actions."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Brown will wait before making a decision on MedvedevImage: AP

The spokesperson declined to be drawn on the content of Brown's letter to the new Russian leader, but said it was "well known" that the radiation poisoning of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko was a key issue between London and Moscow. Other issues included energy security, tackling climate change and international peace and security, he added.

"Continuing to engage with Russia on these issues remains important," he said. The spokesman refused to comment on claims of electoral irregularities, saying: "It's a bit too early to have a judgment." Brown hoped to meet Medvedev at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Japan in July, the spokesperson concluded.

French complain of "Russian-style" election

The French were less diplomatic. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner went straight to the heart of the criticism over irregularities in his statement, saying there was no competition in Russia's presidential election with Medvedev's victory "known in advance."

"I know there was no real competition in this election," he told France Inter radio, adding: "The election was conducted Russian-style, with a victory known in advance."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
The outspoken Kouchner made his feelings very clearImage: AP

Kouchner said President Vladimir Putin's successor, who took 70.2 percent of Sunday's vote, was elected with "very surprising figures, not quite worthy of Stalin, but 70 percent is not bad."

However, he said, "there is no question that Russia voted in its great majority" for a new prosperity, which has seen "salaries multiplied by three or four since 2000," he said.

Kouchner also said the EU must find "new words" to communicate with Moscow under Medvedev's rule, to help restore the country to its "rightful place."

"Russia must occupy its rightful place, which it no longer had, in what we call the concert of nations," he said. "Whatever criticisms can be made of the conduct of Mr. Putin -- not yet of Mr. Medvedev, we shall see -- we, France but especially the European Union, must find new words to talk to Russia. Part of our future -- not just for energy, but for energy too -- lies in Russia," he added.

EU urges Russia to honor its commitments

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the EU's executive arm was confident Medvedev's election as Russian president would boost Russia-EU ties but urged Moscow to honor commitments including on democracy and human rights.

"I am confident that under president Medvedev the Russian Federation and the European Union will consolidate and develop their strategic partnership," Barroso said in a statement. He added the partnership should be based "not only on common interests but also on respect for the values to which we both declared our commitment."

Head of the PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) delegation Andreas Gross
Gross said the election was neither "free nor fair"Image: AP

However, observers from the European Union were less ambiguous in their response. Medvedev's landslide win to succeed Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin was "neither free nor fair," Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) mission told journalists Monday.

"We said three weeks ago that the vote was neither free nor fair, and none of our concerns have been met," Gross, the chief of the sole Western election observer mission in Russia, said "For an election to be good it takes a good process, not just a good election day."

Russia's 96,000 polling stations were attended by a meager 300 vote observers after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) boycotted the election, citing pre-election restrictions.

Vote monitors bemoaned the inequality of candidate registration and the abuse of administrative resources by Medvedev allowing blanket television coverage.

Czechs echo observers' criticism over fairness

It was a situation seized upon by the Czech Republic's foreign ministry which branded Russia's presidential elections unfair, saying it had not been an even playing field for all candidates.

Russians vote in a polling station in Moscow
The Czech Republic was dismayed by the election processImage: AP

"Russian authorities through their restrictive practices did not allow equal conditions for all candidates and, just as in the case of the December parliamentary elections, did not allow fully independent election monitors from the OSCE-Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights mission to be sent," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry nonetheless underlined Russia's importance as "a significant commercial, investment, power and raw materials partner."

Relations between the former Soviet bloc country and Moscow have been strained by the Czech government's willingness to host elements of a US anti-missile shield. Russia has angrily denounced the shield plans as a threat to its security, but Washington insists it is needed as a defense against "rogue states" such as Iran.