President Barack Obama called Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on Friday to congratulate him on his win in Russia’s presidential election earlier this week, even as international poll monitors continued to raise questions about the integrity of the nationwide vote.
The congratulatory call came five days after Putin’s win, raising speculation that the president was intentionally snubbing his Russian counterpart.
Other world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, stopped short of congratulating Putin. Cameron, for example, said only that he looks forward to working with the Russian leader.
Putin, who has served as prime minister during the last four years, had previously served as president of Russia from 2000-2008. The former KGB agent did not run for the presidency in 2008 because he was constitutionally ineligible to hold the post for three consecutive terms.
Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, served as president instead, in what was widely seen as an arrangement designed to keep the seat warm for Putin’s return.
But that return hasn’t exactly gone off without a hitch. International observers, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), noted that there were “procedural irregularities” in almost one-third of the country’s polling stations.
“There were serious problems from the very start of this election,” said Tonino Picula, the head of the OSCE observer mission in the country. “The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”
“In this election, candidates could not compete on an equal footing,” he continued.
On Monday, Russian riot police detained hundreds of protesters who questioned the legitimacy of the March 4 election.
The Obama administration’s ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, tweeted that it was “troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators at Pushkin Square. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are universal values.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry shot back by criticizing the U.S. government’s handling of Occupy Wall Street protesters.
“The police on Pushkin were several times more humane than what we saw in the break up of the Occupy Wall Street protests or the tent camps in Europe,” the ministry said in a Twitter response to McFaul.
Demonstrations have continued in Russia. On Saturday, a protest rally against Putin drew 20,000 people. That number, which represents a steep decline from protest tallies in December, suggests that the opposition movement in the country is waning in the wake of Putin’s win.
Still, one of Putin’s rivals in the race, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, has refused to recognize Putin’s victory.
“I, at least, have decided to refrain from comments for several days, till all the investigations are completed,” he said.
The White House did not mention the irregularities in the voting or the subsequent protests its statement announcing the president’s decision to congratulate Putin.
“President Obama called Russian President-elect and Prime Minister Putin to congratulate him on his recent victory in the Russian Presidential election,” the White House said in a statement.
While it took the president five days to call Putin after his win — a possible sign that the White House didn’t want to seem too enthusiastic about his win — the White House chalked the delay up to scheduling difficulties.
“I would not read anything into it beyond the busy schedules of the two,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
The president has taken his time making congratulatory phone calls in the past. Last year, for example, the St. Louis Cardinals were left hanging after their World Series win.