Putin’s biggest fans in Southeast Europe hail election victory

Putin’s biggest fans in Southeast Europe hail election victory
European politicians overwhelmingly condemned Russia's presidential election this week, but allies of the Russian president — Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, former Moldovan president Igor Dodon and Gagauzia governor Evgenia Gutsul — praised Putin. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 18, 2024

The Palace of the Republic in Banja Luka, administrative capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Serb entity, will be lit up in the colours of the Russian flag this evening as the Bosnian Serb leadership welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entirely expected re-election this weekend. 

Putin declared a sweeping victory even before the official results were announced, after exit polls indicated he had won the Russian presidential election with 87% of the vote. The election has been widely condemned by Western politicians and diplomats as neither free nor fair, and was marked by protests both in Russia and abroad.

Russia is now seen as a pariah state in the West following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and on top of that the election offered no genuine choice to voters. 

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik was one of a handful of politicians from Southeast Europe to have publicly welcomed Putin’s re-election, just over two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

His party, the SNSD, posted a picture of Dodik with Putin on its Facebook page. Dodik, who is under US sanctions, has met several times with Putin since the invasion of Ukraine.

“The Palace of the Republic in Banja Luka tonight will be illuminated in the colours of the Russian flag, as a sign of friendship between the Republic of Srpska and Russia and in honour of Vladimir Putin's victory in the presidential elections,” the caption said.

Dodik also personally congratulated Putin on his victory, saying it had been “greeted with joy” by the Serbian people. 

“We are … happy that the Russian people have chosen a serious, responsible and wise statesman as their leader, because this is a guarantee that traditional values will be maintained in today's world and that it will not become a place where only the chosen can decide on everything,” wrote Dodik on social network X (formerly Twitter).

“I congratulate President Putin, a dear friend of the Republika Srpska and the Serbian people, on his new mandate. I wish him good health, strength and perseverance on the way to save Russia and bring peace and a better future to the whole world,” added Dodik.

Former Moldovan president Igor Dodon, leader of the Russia-leaning Socialist Party (PSRM) put out a similar message on his Facebook page, also posting a picture of himself with Putin. 

“Congratulations to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin on his convincing victory in the elections of the President of the Russian Federation,” Dodon wrote. 

“The record result obtained is proof of the high trust and firm support of the Russian leader by the people of Russia. I wish Vladimir Vladimirovich success, good health and prosperity, and goodness and prosperity to the entire friendly Russian people.” 

In the pro-Russian autonomous Gagauzia region of Moldova, bashkan (governor) Evgenia Gutsul warmly congratulated Putin on the result of the election. 

“On behalf of the Gagauz people and on my own behalf, I send sincere congratulations on the occasion of your convincing victory in the elections of the President of the Russian Federation,” she said in a message posted on the Gagauzia.md site. 

“Your re-election to the post of president indicates your active support for the course you are pursuing, aimed at socio-economic development and strengthening Russia’s position in the international arena.” 

A number of pro-Moscow politicians from the region travelled to Russia to act as election observers for the vote that took place over the weekend. 

Among them was Nenad Popovic, president of the Serbian People's Party, who gave an interview to Russian state TV Rossiya, commenting that Putin “won convincingly” with a record turnout. 

“The election results in Russia show that the people have united around their leader,” he told Tanjug. 

Rightwing Montenegrin politicians Vladislav Dajkovic and Marko Milacic also went to Russia as observers, where the former took to social media to hit back at critics of his trip and to declare: “Vladimir Putin convincingly won the presidential elections in Russia.” 

International response

By contrast, Western diplomats were quick to express their disapproval of the election, citing concerns over authoritarian tendencies and questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process. 

The election was denounced by the United States as “obviously not free nor fair”. The European Union commented that Russia's election took place within a highly restricted environment, exacerbated by its ongoing war against Ukraine. The bloc expressed regret over the absence of international observers.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock echoed these sentiments, stating that Russia's vote fell short of being a genuine election. 

Almost all European countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over the invasion. Serbia, which has declined to join Western sanctions, has not yet made any official comment on the Russian election.

It was mainly Russia’s allies in the former Soviet Union and the Global South that congratulated Putin on his victory. 

Among them were China, where foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian spoke at a press conference of the important relationship between the two countries. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also conveyed his congratulations, expressing eagerness to enhance ties and nurture their "special" relationship.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi extended congratulations to his Russian counterpart, lauding Putin's "decisive" win in the presidential election, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA.