Putin praises elections as hundreds in Moscow protest against results

Hannah Wagner and Christian Thiele
Dpa

Moscow – Russian President Vladimir Putin praised last week’s parliamentary elections as “free and fair” on Saturday, while hundreds of people gathered in Moscow to protest against the results of the polls that were overshadowed by massive accusations of fraud.

“The elections themselves were held openly and in strict accordance with the law,” Putin said during talks with top politicians from all parties represented in the new State Duma. He pointed to the fact that a new, fifth force is now represented in the parliament with the New People party as evidence of a democratic election process.

United Russia won the vote last weekend with 49.8%. The Communists came in second with 18.9%; like all other parties represented in the Duma, they are considered close to the Kremlin.

Police escort a demonstrator with a red flag during a protest against the results of the Parliamentary election near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

Opposition and independent election observers complained of numerous violations and systemic fraud.

The unauthorized rally in Moscow was called by the Communist Party. Among the parliamentarians’ demands were a recount of votes cast online, which the opposition claims were systematically falsified.

Putin dismissed the accusations of fraud on Saturday, especially the ones about online votes, saying that reservations about electronic voting had only arisen “because someone did not like the result.”

In Moscow, online voting results had tipped the balance in favor of United Russia, but were announced only after paper votes were counted despite theoretically being available the moment polls closed.

The protest at Puskhin Square attracted a heavy police presence, with barriers erected and prisoner transport vehicles standing ready.

Russian President Vladimir Putin participates in a meeting with the leaders of the political parties via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

Officers played music over loudspeakers to drown out the speeches made by speakers at the protest. The authorities had earlier issued a warning against taking part in unauthorized protests.

However, unlike at the large-scale protests in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny earlier this year, there were no reports of widespread detentions; however, protest monitoring group OVD-Info later said that one participant was detained near Red Square.

Police estimated the protest attracted 400 participants, while independent observers put the number closer to 1,000.

Hundreds of Moscow residents responded to a similar call for protests by the Communists last Monday.

In the days that followed, several participants were arrested. OVD-Info said it was aware of over 50 cases of people involved in the protest subsequently experiencing official harassment.