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Russia election: Putin's team says Skripal scandal 'mobilised nation and increased turnout'

'The West did not take our mentality into account'

Oliver Carroll
Monday 19 March 2018 11:54 GMT
Vladimir Putin dismisses 'nonsense' of Russian involvement in Salisbury poisoning

As if the West needed any confirmation, Vladimir Putin’s emphatic election win on Sunday demonstrated his iron grip on Russian politics.

Almost as soon as the polls had closed, Andrei Kondrashov, spokesman for Mr Putin’s election campaign, drew a direct line between the victory and the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

“The West did not take our mentality into account,” Mr Kondrashov said. “The Skripal scandal has mobilised the nation, increased turnout, and has consolidated citizens around Vladimir Putin.”

Last night, Mr Putin described allegations of Russian involvement in the spy poisoning affair as “nonsense”. “People would have died instantly,” he suggested, if Russia or anyone else really had used a “warfare agent” in the attack.

According to the latest figures, Mr Putin received a record-breaking 56.2 million votes on a turnout of 67 per cent. Mysteriously, turnout figures were not revealed until hours after the polls closed, and there were numerous documented cases of voting violations. But the evidence of fraud seems to be much reduced from previous elections.

Mr Kondrashov, who is rumoured to be next in line to become presidential press secretary, said the results had surprised even the campaign team. They would have been pleased with lower figures, he said: “Even Putin himself said he would be happy with any result that allowed him to stay on as president.”

Nikita Mikhalkov, the film director who has acted as one of Mr Putin’s “trusted representatives” during the campaign, said that Russians had shown faith in the President’s “enlightened conservatism”.

There is no one else able to run the country apart from him, he said, adding: “Here there is not only responsibility but danger, since Putin and his team need to begin to develop the people who can take over.”

Following his election, Mr Putin, 65, dropped hints that this next term will be his last, describing as “amusing” the idea that he would stay on as president for life.

“Do you really think I’m going to stay on until I’m 100?” he said

Mr Putin claimed he had no plans to change the constitution to allow him to stay on past 2024 – but that, of course, is no guarantee plans will not be developed.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists the Kremlin had no comment to add to the result. “Just congratulate us,” he said.

At the same time, Mr Peskov described the election as an “eloquent” response to “attacks” from abroad: “We understand why the US and Europe chose to close ranks behind Britain. But sooner or later, they will need to answer for these baseless allegations.”

Mr Peskov said that the President had already received a series of phone calls from world leaders congratulating him on his win, without disclosing which. Several other conversations were planned for later on Monday, he added.

Local publications have reported that calls have come from the leaders of Belarus, Tajikistan, China, Serbia, Cuba, Bolivia Kazakhstan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Bolivia, and the internationally unrecognised states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

It has been widely anticipated that a major government reshuffle will follow Mr Putin’s official inauguration in May. To this end, there has been much speculation about the fate of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who many consider to be the President’s most likely long-term successor.

In 2012, Mr Medvedev stood by Mr Putin’s side at his victory rally in a demonstration of solidarity. Yesterday, he was nowhere to be seen and he waited until the morning to tweet congratulations on a “decisive” result.

Mr Peskov said the “British situation” would not play any “significant” role in the reshuffle ahead.

“Our focus is now on the internal development of our country,” he said.

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