Last updated at 11:11 AM on 8th March 2012
Former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev has urged protesters to return to the streets of Moscow.
His dramatic call follows claims that Vladimir Putin’s voting figures in last weekend’s presidential election were massively swollen by fraudulent means.
A dissidents’ group – the League of Voters – alleged that Putin’s vote had been boosted from 53 to 64 per cent by falsified returns from polling stations and the ‘bussing in’ of voters.
The League, which trained volunteers to monitor the election, admitted Putin would still have won the presidency, but said the official result was an ‘insult’ to Russians.
In a radio interview, Gorbachev said: ‘It is clear there was something up with these elections.’ The 81-year-old added: ‘The time has come to listen.’
Putin’s victory was branded an ‘insult to civil society’, opposition group the League Of Voters declared today.
The celebrity-backed group said the result which swept the former Russian prime minister back into the presidency was massively swollen by fraudulent votes.
‘Against the backdrop of widespread violations, the League finds it impossible to recognise the results of the 2012 presidential elections in Russia,’ it said.
Cheating boosted the winner’s vote from just over half to almost 64 per cent, the group claimed in a statement issued at a news conference.
While Putin would have easily won anyway, the result represented an ‘insult’ to Russians, claimed leading writer Boris Akunin and other prominent Moscow figures.
‘The institution of the Russian presidency, the electoral system and the whole state authority were discredited,’ they said in the statement.
The statement signalled the group’s determination to press on with demonstrations against Mr Putin, despite his triumph in Sunday’s election and a crackdown on rallies on Monday.
Russia’s Central Election Commission has said there were no major voting irregularities in the election.
Mr Putin, returning to the presidency after eight years as head of state until 2008, also said he had won a clean victory.
After serving as prime minister for the past four years, he has now won a new six-year term and could rule as long as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18 years in power have been called the ‘years of stagnation.’
Mr Putin said: ‘Violations are possible but they can only affect hundredths of a percentage point. Well, a percentage point – not more than that.’
He stressed: ‘You can’t bus in 45million people. There are things you can’t argue about.’
Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, swiftly dismissed the opposition criticism and indicated it would not be taken into account.
‘All assessments have been made. The matter is closed,’ he told Interfax news agency.
Official results showed Putin won more than 63 percent of votes in the election, but independent international monitors said the poll was skewed to favour the prime minister.
The U.S. and the European Union have called for all reports of voting irregularities to be investigated but also underlined the need to keep cooperating with Russia.
The League of Voters, which was born from protests that were sparked by allegations of fraud in a parliamentary poll on December 4 won by Mr Putin’s party, said that ‘civil society in Russia was insulted’ by Sunday’s election results.
Citing handwritten vote tallies collected by its observers, the group said results from 33 polling stations in Russia’s second city of St Petersburg had been falsified to give Putin an extra 15 percentage points after voting ended.
‘You can imagine what the situation was like at polling stations which were impossible to monitor,’ said Georgy Vasilyev, a film producer and member of the League of Voters.
Police detained hundreds of people who attended unsanctioned rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg on Monday and protesters who refused to leave after a Moscow rally that had been permitted.
The police said they had acted in accordance with the law and Mr Peskov defended the intervention.
But some opposition leaders have said they fear Mr Putin has decided to use force to smother their protests.
The next test of their staying power will be on Saturday when they plan to protest in Moscow.
Journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, a protest organiser, said: ‘We must make this protest different …
‘It must be dedicated to the surge of material on violations that are flooding in from all sides.’
But he acknowledged it would be hard to maintain the momentum of protests as indignation over vote fraud dissipates.
‘People are tired now,’ he said. ‘People are taking this to heart psychologically and personally so of course we will see a period of ‘drop-off’ from primary, basic, brutal activism.’
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, urged Russian protesters to return to the streets despite this weeks harsh crackdown by riot police.
‘It is clear there was something up with these elections,’ he said.