Russian President Vladimir Putin Wins Another 6-Year Term
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I hesitate to even call this news because it was so pre-determined, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has won the Russian presidential election over the weekend. Authorities say he earned more than three-quarters of the vote. He is now set to rule Russia for another six years and, who knows, maybe longer depending on what happens. NPR's Lucian Kim is in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains - what? - Lucian, about a thousand miles east of Moscow?
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Yes, that's right. Good morning.
GREENE: Good morning. So you got out of Moscow to get a feel for this election from away from the capital. I mean, what is the feel? Are people celebrating in the streets that Putin won again?
KIM: (Laughter) Well, not exactly. Last night, there was a small rally on the main square with a lot of loud dance music. It was actually officially dedicated to Crimea's annexation four years ago. But everybody there knew this was about Putin's re-election. And in fact, the election was timed to coincide with that anniversary. It was one way to whip up some patriotic fervor for a vote, as you said, that most people saw as pre-determined.
GREENE: Yeah. I guess that's the challenge, making sure people actually turn out if they know what the result is going to be. But, Lucian, does Putin have an argument to make? I mean, the economy in Russia is not doing that well. He's being criticized left and right, especially after this poisoning of a former spy in Britain. So what was his argument?
KIM: Well, that's exactly it. I mean, Putin has sort of a reverse narrative from what people hear in the U.S. or in Europe. It's - his narrative is that Russia is actually not doing all that bad, especially considering all the sanctions that the U.S. and Europe have imposed after the annexation of Crimea. And every day, state television is sending the message the West is against us, we're a besieged fortress. As far as the poisoning of the Russian spy, the former Russian spy in Britain, Putin actually addressed that yesterday. And that's also just part of - a part of that narrative that this is - there's an international anti-Russian campaign, including actually the accusations that Russia meddled in the U.S. elections.
GREENE: Oh, so the West is against us, and he's sort of the hero to make sure that Russia remains strong. Well, his - Putin's most vocal critic, the anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who you've reported on quite a bit, he wasn't even allowed to run in this election. So what is the message from the opposition after this election took place?
KIM: Well, the opposition is reporting harassment of independent election monitors and even some isolated incidents of violence. But more - much more than that, just pressure on government employees to go out and vote and good old ballot stuffing. The problem is that the opposition doesn't - isn't really presenting a very convincing or consolidated alternative. Last night, even before the preliminary results were out, Alexei Navalny and liberal candidate Ksenia Sobchak, who picked up less than 2 percent of the vote, they were squabbling on his YouTube channel. She offered to unite forces with him, and Navalny called her a Putin tool for running in the elections and said, no, he wouldn't unite with her.
GREENE: OK, so not a unified message from the opposition. So what happens now? Could Putin run again and go beyond the six-year term?
KIM: Well, that's - there's a lot of speculation about that. I mean, some people are comparing, you know, the Chinese model. And it's true that Putin really admires Chinese President Xi Jinping. He even mentioned him in his victory press conference. He was also asked if he'd change the constitution. Putin said he doesn't have such plans yet.
GREENE: Yet. All right, NPR's Lucian Kim in Russia. Thanks, Lucian.
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