The ‘World Is Laughing’ at the U.S., Putin Boasts After Election ‘Win’

Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Vladimir Putin excoriated U.S. democracy on Sunday in a speech claiming victory in the Russian presidential election that, despite a war aboard and protests at home, only ever had one possible outcome: extending his political reign for another six years.

“Out of every voice, we are building a common will of the people of [the] Russian Federation,” he said from his campaign headquarters in Moscow, according to the BBC.

He shrugged off international criticism—including from the United States, where a White House National Security Council spokesperson decried the elections as “obviously not free nor fair.”

“What did you want, for them to applaud us?” Putin asked, The Guardian reported. “…Their goal is to contain our development. Of course they’re ready to say anything.”

He went on to suggest “the entire world is laughing” at the U.S., saying it was “a disaster, not a democracy,” according to a translation by Sputnik, a state-owned news agency.

“I have every reason to believe that no democracy, at least in the presidential election campaigns in certain countries of the West, including the United States, does not exist,” he continued.

Putin, 71, faced little real opposition in the fight. The three other candidates on the ballot have refrained from criticizing him and are widely viewed as toothless, having been rubber-stamped by the Kremlin. The second-place candidate, Communist Nikolai Kharitonov, earned just under 4 percent of the vote on Sunday.

Early returns reported by Russia’s Central Election Commission showed Putin had amassed nearly 88 percent of the vote with roughly 60 percent of precincts counted, according to the Associated Press. Turnout was measured at an historic 74 percent, surpassing the 2018 election’s 67 percent, officials said. It marks the largest share of the vote the septuagenarian has collected in any of his five election wins.

His fiercest opponent and biggest threat, Alexei Navalny, died in a remote Arctic penal colony almost exactly a month ago, having been sentenced to more than three decades behind bars on charges internationally condemned as bogus and politically motivated.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, had urged Russians to turn out at noon on Sunday to quietly protest Putin, with multiple outlets reporting that lines at polling stations and Russian embassies around the world appeared to grow around midday.

“You can ruin the ballot, you can write Navalny on it in bold letters, and even if you don’t see the point in voting at all, you can just come and stand at the polling station and then turn around and go home,” she encouraged them, according to Axios.

Some voters posted photos of their spoiled ballots, bearing slogans like “Navalny is my president,” “No to war, no to Putin,” and “Putin is a murderer,” according to The Washington Post.

The protests had been more pronounced earlier in the course of the three-day election, with Russia filing more than a dozen criminal cases against demonstrators who set voting booths on fire, poured dye into ballot boxes, and lobbed Molotov cocktails at polling stations.

“This is the first time in my life I have ever seen a queue for elections,” a woman in Moscow told CNN on Sunday. Asked why she had turned up around noon, she replied: “You know why. I think everybody in this queue knows why.”

More than 65 people were detained across Russia on Sunday for offenses such as trying to slip a photo of Navalny into the ballot box, according to independent rights monitor OVD-Info.

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Navalnaya herself was present in the line outside Russia’s embassy in Berlin for “Noon Against Putin.” She told reporters that she had written her husband’s name on her ballot after waiting more than five hours to cast it. “Please stop asking for messages from me or from somebody for Mr. Putin,” she said when prompted at one point, according to the AP.

“There could be no negotiations and nothing with Mr. Putin, because he’s a killer, he’s a gangster.”

In an unprecedented moment, Putin publicly addressed Navalny’s death—using his name, a rarity—on Sunday night. Putin claimed that he had agreed to a deal to swap Navalny in a prisoner exchange “a few days” before he “left this life.”

“But unfortunately, what happened happened. I agreed under one condition: we swap him, and he doesn’t come back,” Putin said, according to The Financial Times. “But such is life.”

Putin also extended a special thank-you to the “warriors on the line of contact,” a reference to Russian soldiers fighting the war in Ukraine, or what he and other state leaders refer to euphemistically as “the special military operation.”

Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago last month. “These days, the Russian dictator is simulating another election,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday. “It is clear to everyone in the world that this figure, as it has already often happened in the course of history, is simply sick for power and is doing everything to rule forever.”

Asked by Reuters about tensions escalating between western powers and Russia over the situation in Ukraine, Putin remarked placidly that “everything is possible in the modern world.” He invoked the specter of “a full-scale World War III,” however, should countries like France follow through on recent thinly veiled threats to put troops on the ground there.

“I think hardly anyone is interested in this,” he said.

Putin, a former KGB agent, won presidential office in 2000 and a second term in 2004. He then served as prime minister for four years in an effort to get around a pesky constitutional limitation on serving more than two consecutive terms as president. In 2012, he won a third presidential term, followed by a fourth in 2018.

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