MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election has left deep divisions in an opposition movement that had been buoyed in recent months by countrywide protests but failed to translate its momentum into a broad political movement.

Anticorruption activist Alexei Navalny had brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets across Russia ahead of Sunday’s election—a vote that he was barred from participating in.

But his call for a boycott of the election appears to have had little effect, as Sunday’s turnout surpassed that of the last election in 2012. At the same time, friction emerged Monday among opposition figures—some of whom accused the Kremlin of improprieties during Sunday’s election—as to the best way to counter Mr. Putin’s influence.

Mr. Putin, meanwhile, softened his tone on relations with the West after a pugnacious campaign, saying he didn’t want an arms race.

With almost all votes counted on Monday, Russia’s Central Election Commission said Mr. Putin had won nearly 77% of the ballots cast, with turnout of 67.5%. The president’s closest competitor, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, won just short of 12% of the vote, the commission said, while opposition television personality Ksenia Sobchak drew less than 2%.

The result reflects the difficulty the opposition has in turning street protests into a viable political opposition that can trouble Mr. Putin in a country where the Kremlin fosters schisms, targets opponents with judicial investigations and cultivates its own loyal opposition figures.

Mr. Putin maintains tight control over the country—from television channels to law enforcement—but also enjoys genuine popularity for his hard line against the West and improved living standards over his 18 years in power.

“Navalny’s campaign fizzled out,” said Aleksei Chesnakov, a political analyst and former Kremlin aide. “What is the argument for protests now? The elections already happened, and people had their say.”


After polls closed Sunday, Mr. Navalny engaged in a debate with Ms. Sobchak, rejecting her offers to create a united opposition party and criticizing her as a Kremlin stooge for taking part in the election. Mr. Navalny was barred from running because of a criminal conviction that he says was politically motivated.

“Ksenia, you yourself are a part of the lying, false system, which didn’t let me participate in the election,” he said in the debate, which was broadcast on his organization’s internet television channel.

Speaking later on state television, Ms. Sobchak noted the popularity of Mr. Putin’s strong hand in domestic affairs and acknowledged that liberals were a minority in Russia. In the debate with Mr. Navalny, she said her campaign had drawn attention to problems faced by real Russians.

The state electoral commission said there had been no serious violations during the elections, while the opposition said voting data were inflated by ballot stuffing and state bodies and companies forced employees to vote.

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Sixteen-year-old Vitaliy Smitienko, a high school student, joined the Russia opposition movement last year. Despite being detained, he hasn’t given up supporting anticorruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, and the fight for freedom of expression in Russia. Photo: Sergey Karpov/The Wall Street Journal

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s vote monitoring body said the ballot was carried out on an uneven playing field and raised questions about transparency of the vote count.

Election watchdog Golos registered thousands of voting violations, including observers being prevented from monitoring the vote and technical problems.

In separate meetings Monday with the leaders of his campaign team and his erstwhile rivals for the presidency, Mr. Putin adopted a softer tone than during the campaign, when he showed off new nuclear weapons that he said could target any country in the world. “No one is planning any arms race,” he said.

Mr. Putin said he planned to cut Russia’s military budget as a program to develop new advanced weapons systems was coming to an end. He also said he wanted to focus on issues important to everyday Russians.

“You can’t avoid [focusing on] security, but nonetheless what’s most important for us is domestic issues,” he told his campaign team.

Some Western leaders extended their congratulations to Mr. Putin on his victory while others chose not to, highlighting the divisiveness his policies engender.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent the Russian leader a note congratulating him and urging dialogue. French President Emmanuel Macron, in a statement after a call with Mr. Putin, stopped short of congratulating his Russian counterpart, saying he wished Russia and Russians well before calling on Moscow to explain the circumstances around the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia by what the U.K. government said was a Soviet-era nerve agent.

President Donald Trump was aware of the election result in Russia but no call was scheduled with Mr. Putin, a White House spokesman said Monday. In London a spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. would comment on Russia’s election only after assessing the OSCE’s report.

Some analysts have said Mr. Putin’s new term could be marked by an escalation in his confrontation with the West. The list of disputes is long, from the Kremlin’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria to Western accusations of election meddling, cyberattacks and the poisoning of Mr. Skripal and his daughter in the U.K.

But with the election over, Mr. Putin may tone down his rhetoric, said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank affiliated with the Russian foreign ministry.

“He now has the full support of the Russian people, and he’s more confident now,” Mr. Kortunov said.

Write to Thomas Grove at

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