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Leaders react as Putin landslide confirmed

March 19, 2018

World leaders are weighing in with praise as well as harsh criticism for Putin's re-election victory in Russia. Officials say the president garnered almost 77 percent of the vote, with an estimated turnout of 67 percent.

Vladimir Putin
Image: Reuters/D. Mdzinarishvili

Vladimir Putin's re-election has elicited decidedly mixed feelings throughout Germany, including at the highest levels of political power. In the government's Monday press conference, spokesman Steffen Seibert said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would send the longtime Russian leader a congratulatory telegram that would "address the challenges we face in German-Russian relations."

In his official well wishes, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote that Germany and Russia were "disturbingly far removed" from a "lasting cooperative peaceful order" in Europe. He added, pointedly, "Mistrust, rearmament and a climate of insecurity contribute to the instability" - hardly a usual wording in a message of congratulation.

Earlier, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the election in Russia was not a "fair political competition," according to European standards and that Russia would "remain a diffcult partner." He added it was "unacceptable" that the elections also took place in annexed Crimea.

However, he said that "Russia is needed when it comes to solving the big international conflicts." He called on Moscow to be more "constructive" than it has been in the past.

Manfred Weber, the parliamentary group leader of the conservative alliance in the EU, the European People's Party (EPP), put it more bluntly by suggesting in German daily Bild that Russia was waging "a modern war against the West." He added that a "line has been crossed, we Europeans need to wake up, end this naivety. Our way of life is being attacked and we need to defend ourselves."

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the same paper that she would not go so far as to speak of "war" but that Putin had long ceased to be a "partner."

Latin American reaction

The reactions were very different in parts of Latin America, where it was still daytime when Russia's election results were announced on Sunday.

Read more: Opinion: Vladimir Putin's great deceit

Sunday's first notable international congratulations came from Venezuela. "This new victory of President Putin solidifies his leadership and his demonstrated capacity to steer the specific weight of Russia in history and in the convulsing world of today," said Nicolas Maduro, Putin's closest Latin American ally and embattled counterpart in Caracas.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales also celebrated Putin's victory. "Russia respects the dignity of societies and guarantees geopolitical equilibrium against the charge of imperialism," Morales wrote on his official Twitter account late Sunday.

China and Iran

Chinese President Xi Jinping said he foresaw a deepened bond between the countries. "Currently, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership is at the best level in history, which sets an example for building a new type of international relations," Xi said in a congratulatory message to Putin carried by the official Xinhua News Agency. 

Iranian president Hasan Rouhani also congratulated Putin on his "decisive victory" and vowed to further boost ties between Tehran and Moscow. 

Turnout high

The Central Election Commission reports that up to 67 percent of eligible voters turned out for Sunday's election in Russia, which Vladimir Putin is said to have won with a 76.67 percent tally. That turnout would be even higher than the 2012 polls, when 65 percent of voters restored the former KGB spy to the presidency for what was his third six-year term.
Analysts called turnout a major factor for Putin, who sought a clear mandate.

Russia vote - An analysis by Emily Sherwin and Sarah Pagung

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny had urged supporters to boycott polls to drive down turnout after the Kremlin barred him from running due to a criminal conviction he calls politically motivated. 

"These elections, [of] which everybody knows what the result is going to be, are basically there to create legitimacy for Putin himself," German Council on Foreign Relations analyst Sarah Pagung told DW. "If there would be a low turnout, it would mean that people are not interested in politics."

Selfies and cheap potatoes

Authorities pushed to bring out voters. Billboards and ads urging people to show up outnumbered those for individual candidates. Public sector workers reported pressure to vote from their superiors. There was even a concerted effort to get women to cast ballots.

"They were very much trying to pull people to the polls," DW's Emily Sherwin said. "There were selfie competitions; there were raffles where people could win cars. They were selling food at really very reasonable prices — for example, my colleague in Kazan said outside the polling station he was at they were selling a kilo of potatoes for 20 euro cents, so really, really cheap. So they were really trying to pull people to the polls."

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ng, mkg/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)