Russian opposition activists fear an imminent crackdown on dissent in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s presidential election victory after riot police detained hundreds of protesters, including opposition leaders, disputing the poll in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Russian and international monitors complained of widespread “carousel voting” in which groups of voters are transported to polling stations to cast ballots, but Putin today dismissed opposition complaints.
“It’s an element of political struggle, it has no relation to the election,” he said.
The authorities also attacked U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, after he tweeted his concern about the crackdown: “Troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators at Pushkin square. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are universal values.”
The Kremlin shot back: “The police action was far more gentle than we have seen during the dispersal of Occupy Wall Street protests and tent camps in Europe.”
Putin will allow a few isolated protests, the place and time of which is agreed with the authorities, as a safety valve for disillusionment among mainly urban demonstrators with his 12-year domination of Russia.
He could also offer some conciliatory gestures to appease the opposition. In one such move, the Kremlin has ordered a review of 32 criminal cases including the jailing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the refusal to register a liberal opposition group which has been barred from elections.
But Putin, a former KGB spy, will do his utmost to prevent what he regards as more radical protesters undermining his return to the Kremlin for a third term as president. Dissent will be dealt with forcefully.
As a democracy assistance official monitoring post-election development reports:
Rhetoric among Moscow’s more prominent bloggers has shifted towards a significantly more aggressive stance, demanding tangible results, and decrying the failures of previous meetings. Two separate opposition protests took place in Moscow yesterday. On Pushkin Square, thousands of “centrist” opposition figures gathered to sing songs of “revolution,” a word rarely invoked up to this point.
Sergey Udaltsov, head of the Left Front, made an appearance at the rally, stating “I will leave this square only when Putin leaves the presidency!” A smaller protest near the Central Election Committee Headquarters was dispersed, while approximately two thousand Kremlin-loyal Nashi activists gathered on Manezh Square. Streets surrounding Pushkin Square were blocked with dump trucks by Interior Ministry troops and hundreds of OMON and MVD troops gathered at staging points around the protest site. The Communists decided to hold a separate rally on Novopushkinsky Square.
Moscow Election Results: Golos received 1,295 reports of voting irregularities in Moscow City and Moscow Oblast. Once again the results in Moscow City and Moscow Oblast exemplified the geographical isolation of Moscow’s liberal reformers. In Moscow City, Putin garnered 46% of the vote, Prokhorov 20%, and Zyuganov 19%. Just a few kilometers outside of the city center, Putin received 56%, Zyuganov 19%, and Prokhorov just 11%.
Regional Opposition: Reports of carousel voting were reported in several regions. In addition, organizations attempting to monitor the regional elections encountered difficulties in a number of regions. The Barnaul office of Golos had its mobile phone connections blocked, and experienced periodic internet outages. Stavropol and Kaliningrad Golos offices had electricity shut off. Tomsk election observers were barred from entering polling stations, although 5 (of 40 total) were able to enter but were told to leave 1.5 hours after voting began. A Golos representative in Novokuznetsk (Kemerevo oblast) reported that most observers from A Just Russia and LDPR were not allowed at polling stations due to supposed improper documentation. Samara Golos observers were dismissed from polling stations with the statement: “You are working for money from the West.”
In St. Petersburg, crowds gathered in neighborhoods and squares throughout the city with multiple detainments being reported on Twitter; people shouting “Russia Without Putin” were rounded up by rapidly deployed OMON and police forces, with some observers reporting that people were being detained without cause – journalists, passerby, basically anyone on the sidewalks. In Yekaterinburg, about 3,000 gathered outside the regional election commission, shouting “Putin is a thief.” In Novosibirsk – opposition activists disrupted a concert on Lenin Square and formed a human chain around the stage, whistling and shouting
Regional Election Results: Election results from the regions showed Putin taking first in every region by a comfortable margin, with the Communists taking second in every region, except St. Petersburg, where Prokhorov finished runner-up with 15.52%. Overall voter turnout was 65.32%, with a relatively low number of spoiled ballots.
Inconsistencies in the regions mirrored the results of the December Duma Elections, with Putin winning huge majorities in non-Slavic ethnic republics (Yamalia – 84.58%; voter turnout – 93.43%,Tuva – 90%; voter turnout – 92.63%, Chukotka – 72.64%; voter turnout – 81.83%, Tatarstan – 82.7% ; voter turnout – 83.02%, Mordovia – 87.06%; voter turnout – 89.65%). Northwest Russia turned in the least amount of support for Putin, with only Leningrad (61.9%) and Murmansk (60.05%) oblasts voting +60%. All other NW oblasts were 54-59%. The lowest vote for Putin outside of Moscow city was Kaliningrad, with 52.55%. The more heavily populated Siberian and Far Eastern regions drew only mild support for Putin (Tomsk – 57.07%; voter turnout – 58.25%, Omsk – 55.55%; voter turnout – 61.7%, Novosibirsk – 56.34%; voter turnout – 63.26%, Krasnoyarsk – 60.16%; voter turnout – 59.53%, Irkutsk – 55.45%; voter turnout – 56.03%, Khabarovsk – 56.15%; voter turnout – 61.95%, Primorskiy – 57.31%; voter turnout – 64.42%).
North Caucasus Election Results: What is interesting about the N. Caucasus results is not so much the voting numbers, but rather that there has been any reaction to them at all, and that some of it has been made public. N. Caucasus unsurprisingly voted strongly for Putin. However, there were considerably more violations reported in this round than during the Duma elections (10 in Makhachkala, 16 in Grozny, 19 in Kumukh) Some of the most glaring examples of electoral fraud came out of Dagestan, where voters were recorded casting multiple votes. Some of these instances are probably cases of heads of household voting for an entire family (a widespread practice throughout the Caucasus, especially in conservative areas), which may make it more questionable than malicious.
North Caucasus Opposition: Very little planned by is planned by way of opposition rallies. LDPR is planning a rally against the results of the elections in Makhachkala tomorrow. Few reports of major arrests yet, though they may be coming out in the days ahead. In Rostov and Krasnodar there have been pro-Putin rallies, but in other regions (Astrakhan and Lermontov in Stavrolpolskii Krai) the results of local elections in particular are being contested.