As Expected, Vladimir Putin — Who Has Led Russia For 18 Years — Wins 6 More
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's not a surprise - today's presidential election in Russia gave Vladimir Putin another six-year term in office. That is in addition to the 18 years he has already been in power. Latest official tallies show Putin winning by a large margin. Officials reported turnout running about 60 percent, but independent election monitors posted videos of ballot box stuffing, and there were more than 100 claims of voter fraud in Moscow alone. The presidential ballot listed seven other candidates, but the race was never seen as genuinely competitive. Our colleague, co-host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Mary Louise Kelly, was out and about today speaking to voters in Moscow. And she explained to me why Putin's victory was never in doubt.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: The fact of the matter is Putin is popular here. I mean, we have met plenty of people who don't like him, absolutely, people who came out today and voted for the Liberal opposition, people who came out and voted for the Communist Party. But none of them actually believed their candidate would win. You know, we've all heard a lot about how Putin controls state media here and has barred his most prominent political opponent, Alexei Navalny, from running in this election. But the bottom line is people like the stability. Putin has been in power for 18 years. And that in large part is, at this point, his appeal. He's the status quo. Let me let you hear that directly from one of those voters we chatted with at Precinct 148. This is Vadim Paragudov (ph).
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
VADIM PARAGUDOV: (Speaking in foreign language).
KELLY: So, Michel, he's saying there, I do not see another worthy competitor. And with Putin, the situation is stable. The other thing that's worth mentioning - Putin voters here will tell you over and over he makes them feel proud. This is important. He's really skilled at harnessing that. I mean, today's election, by no coincidence whatsoever, is being held on the fourth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. That plays straight to the Putin brand of projecting Russia's strength, of projecting this sense only Putin can keep you safe. And voters here - not all of them, but a majority - buy it.
MARTIN: Well, with the outcome not in doubt, we're still told that the Kremlin was making a big push for turnout. What was the point of that exercise?
KELLY: That is all about legitimacy. Putin wants to be able to claim a huge landslide victory because if he gets a huge landslide, it gives him a mandate to govern in whatever way he may see fit for another six years. We visited a number of polling stations today, and they had a games set out for kids - a little, mini hockey rink at one that we visited. They were handing out balloons. They had - let me let you hear what it sounds like. This is some patriotic music that was playing at one polling station.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KELLY: And what they're singing there is (singing) let's go Russia - let's go, let's go. So it's this whole - let's make it fun. That's the government's strategy - make it fun. If people will just come to the polls, then, hopefully, from the government's point of view, they'll vote Putin.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, the whole question of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections in the United States is very much a part of American politics at the moment.
MARTIN: Is there a comparable conversation in Russia? Is there any discussion about this investigation in the U.S.? Are they talking about that at all?
KELLY: They're certainly talking about it. And they, in fact, flip it around and reverse the allegation. The line that you hear from the Kremlin is, hey, you Americans, you're the ones messing in our election. And that point was driven home today. There was a report from Russia's Central Election Commission, claiming that their website was hit by a cyberattack overnight and saying the cyberattack originated overseas - in 15 countries overseas. We don't have much more detail than that, and we'll see if the claim goes anywhere. But they flip it around and say, we didn't hack you. You're hacking us.
MARTIN: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reporting from Moscow. Mary Louise, thank you.
KELLY: You're welcome, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.