The State Department issued a report Friday that
detailed widespread accusations of fraud and abuse in the March 2012 election
that brought Vladimir Putin back
into the Russian presidency.
U.S.-Russian relations have been in a tailspin since
Putin's return as head of state in Moscow, following his four years as prime
minister under the presidency of Dmitry
Medvedev. The United States and Russia have been at odds over a U.S. list of
Russian human rights violators, the Russian decision to ban U.S. adoptions of
Russian children, Russian persecution of international NGOs, the expulsion from
Russia of USAID, and Russia's unilateral withdrawal from the Nunn-Lugar
cooperative threat reduction program.
In the run-up to Putin's election, huge protests
swept Moscow and Putin blamed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for "inciting"
the crowds that had protested the Russian parliamentary elections in December 2011where
fraud and abuse were also widely reported.
On Friday, the State Department released its annual
list of human rights reports and the section on Russia lays out extensive
reporting on Putin's own election and the irregularities that surrounded it.
"Domestic and international observers described the
presidential campaign as skewed in favor of the ruling party's candidate,
Vladimir Putin... Procedural irregularities marred voting, with reports of vote
fraud, administrative measures disadvantaging the opposition, and pressure on
election monitoring groups," the report
stated. "The law provides citizens with the right to
change their government peacefully in regularly scheduled national and regional
elections. However, citizens could not fully exercise this right as the government
limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for
public office, access the media, or conduct political campaigns."
In the period leading up to the election,
international observers pointed out that Putin had unfair access to the media and
some press outlets were harassed or otherwise warned to cover pro-Putin rallies
favorably. Opposition candidates were prevented from appearing in the media.
"Prior to the elections, independent observers,
media, and opposition parties reported widespread irregularities, including
abuse of administrative resources such as pressuring students, state budget
employees, employees of state-owned companies, and others to vote for the
ruling party," said the report. "On election day, March 4, independent election
monitors observed procedural irregularities in one-third of the polling
stations they visited."
During the election period and the period of Putin's inauguration, some
media and civil society groups were the victims of cyberattacks, preventing
those groups from spreading information about political developments including
protests. Targeted sites included the radio station Ekho Moskvy, the newspapers
Novaya Gazeta and Kommersant, independent election monitoring
organization Golos, the Internet television station Dozhd, and live-event
Voters were added to voter lists just before or on
election day and "special polling stations" were established at the last minute
in some places through a process that was not transparent.
The elections results themselves were suspect. According
to Russia's own Central Election Commission, the North Caucasus region, where
Russia has been fighting a bitter insurgency, was the region that submitted the
most votes for Putin and had extremely high turnout.
"In Chechnya, where recorded turnout was 99.59
percent, Putin won 99.82 percent of the vote. In Dagestan, where recorded
turnout was 91 percent, Putin won almost 93 percent of the vote. In Ingushetia,
recorded voter turnout was 86 percent, and Putin garnered 92 percent of the
vote. In Karachay-Cherkessia, Putin won 91 percent of the vote, while in
neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, Putin received 78 percent of the vote," the
Protests erupted in Moscow following Putin's
election, including a huge protest that included 30,000 protesters on May 6 in
Bolotnaya Square. Four hundred protesters were arrested that day. After the
elections, independent monitoring organizations reported they were receiving
pressure from the Russian government as they attempted to publicize the results
of their monitoring. One monitoring group, Golos, was particularly harassed.
was evicted from its central office in Moscow when the landlord terminated its
lease early. In January Roskomnadzor began monitoring Golos' newspaper. Several
of Golos' regional divisions were subjected to unscheduled audits of their
financial records. On January 18, Aleksander Kalashnikov, the head of the FSB
in the Komi Republic, called Golos and Memorial ‘extremist organizations...
directed from abroad, often financed by foreign NGO funding, and designed to
transform the political system of the Russian Federation.' He also asserted that Golos' main goal was to
disrupt the presidential elections in the country," the State Department report
The election irregularities were only one subset of
the many types of human rights abuses reported in Russia in 2012.
"Other problems reported during the year included: allegations of torture
and excessive force by law enforcement officials; life-threatening prison
conditions; interference in the judiciary and the right to a fair trial;
abridgement of the right to privacy; restrictions on minority religions;
widespread corruption; societal and official intimidation of civil society and
labor activists; limitations on the rights of workers; trafficking in persons;
attacks on migrants and select religious and ethnic minorities; and
discrimination against and limitation of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender (LGBT) persons," said the report. "The government failed to
take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses,
resulting in a climate of impunity."