"From my point of view, the result of the Duma election undoubtedly reflects public opinion in the country," Putin said. "As for the fact that the ruling force, United Russia, lost some ground, there is also nothing unusual about this. As for the fairness or unfairness: The opposition will always say the elections were not fair. Always. This happens everywhere, in all countries."
A group of opposition parties, citing their own detailed survey of the raw votes cast in polling stations across Russia, said last week that fraud may have amounted to as much as 20 percent of the results and has asked for an objective recount to be carried out. Others, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, argue that the elections were fundamentally flawed, because nine opposition parties were barred from even participating and UR was backed by massive government resources, and propose that the elections should be completely re-staged under fair conditions.
In the subtext of his remarks, Putin made it plain that nothing of that kind is going to happen.
"Putin is trying to wriggle out of a very complicated situation," says Yevgeny Ikhlov, an analyst with the grassroots For Human Rights group in Moscow.
"The whole world and half of the population of Russia did not recognize those election results. The regime has lost its moral legitimacy, and is on the point of losing political and legal legitimacy as well. Russia is sliding into dictatorship.... Putin doesn't see that. But he is fast losing his image as the savior of the country and his reputation as a tough leader; his popularity is collapsing," he says.
Asked about the protests, which erupted onto Moscow streets after the official vote count showed United Russia winning about 50 percent, Putin at first declared that he was "happy" to see Russians exercising their right to free assembly. "I saw on television mostly young, active people clearly expressing their positions... if this is the result of the Putin regime, then this is good."