West decries Putin’s landslide election win, China congratulates him

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West decries Putin's landslide election win, China congratulates him © Reuters. Russian presidential candidate and incumbent President Vladimir Putin speaks after polling stations closed, in Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Matthias Williams

LONDON (Reuters) – Western governments lined up on Monday to condemn Vladimir Putin’s landslide election victory as unfair and undemocratic, but China and North Korea congratulated the veteran Russian leader on extending his rule by a further six years.

The contrasting reactions underscored the geopolitical faultlines that have gaped wider since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, triggering the deepest crisis in relations with the West since the end of the Cold War.

“The electoral process in Russia took place amid accrued repression against civil society and all forms of opposition to the regime, with even tougher restrictions to freedom of expression and the banning of independent media,” France’s foreign ministry said.

“The conditions for a free, pluralistic and democratic election were not met.”

British foreign minister David Cameron said the election outcome highlighted the “depth of repression” in Russia.

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

A German government spokesperson said Chancellor Olaf Scholz would not congratulate Putin on his re-election because “the result was predetermined”.

The Kremlin dismissed such criticism, saying the 87% of the vote won by Putin during the three-day election showed that the Russian people were consolidating around him.

France, Britain and others condemned the fact that Russia had also held its election in occupied regions of Ukraine that it claims to have annexed during the war.

This decision constitutes “a new breach of international law and of the United Nations Charter”, France said, reiterating its refusal to recognise the Russian annexations and its commitment to “the sovereignty… and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

‘STOLEN’ ELECTION

British defence minister Grant Schapps said on social media platform X: “Putin has stolen another election, but he will not steal Ukraine.”

A White House spokesperson on Sunday said Russia’s election was “obviously not free nor fair”. President Joe Biden has not yet commented.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia’s election had no legitimacy.

“It is clear to everyone in the world that this figure (Putin)… is simply sick for power and is doing everything to rule forever,” Zelenskiy said.

In sharp contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Putin, and said Beijing would maintain close communication with Moscow to promote the “no limits” partnership they agreed in 2022, just before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“I believe that under your leadership, Russia will certainly be able to achieve greater achievements in national development and construction,” Xi told Putin in his message, according to Xinhua News.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also sent a letter of congratulations to Putin, the KCNA state news agency reported.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are expected to endorse on Monday economic sanctions on several people seen as involved in the mistreatment and death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic penal colony.

“Russia’s election was an election without choice,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at the start of the meeting, adding: “Today, we will pave the way for sanctions in light of the death Alexei Navalny.”

Navalny’s family and supporters have been forced into exile and have blamed Putin for his death, an allegation the Kremlin denies.

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