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West ‘takes note’ of Putin victory

Western powers greeted Vladimir Putin’s presidential election victory with resignation Monday, while leaders in Asia and the Balkans openly congratulated the Russian strongman on his return to the Kremlin.

The European Union’s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said the bloc merely “took note” of the outcome of Sunday’s vote while there were assurances from the EU’s most powerful members that they wanted to work with Moscow.

Syria meanwhile hailed what it called a “remarkable” victory by Putin in gratitude for Russia’s refusal to join the chorus of criticism of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on the opposition.

The European responses were shaped by a report from international observers, led by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which said the campaign was skewed in favour of Putin and the ballot marred by irregularities.

“The EU takes note of the preliminary results of the presidential elections and the clear victory of Vladimir Putin,” Ashton said in a statement which also called on Russia to address polling “shortcomings” identified by observers.

“The EU looks forward to working with the incoming Russian president and the new government in full support of our shared modernisation agenda, which we see as covering both economic and political reforms,” Ashton said.

“We trust the new Russian president will be ready to take these reforms forward, in dialogue with citizens and civil society,” she added.

Asked why the European Commission had yet to congratulate Putin on his victory, a spokeswoman for the EU executive said it was waiting for a fuller report on the outcome of the vote, adding: “First things first.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also gave a cool reaction, though he said that Putin’s re-election is “not in doubt.”

“I take note that President Putin is our interlocutor for years to come,” he said.

“Concerning France, our aim is to develop the partnership that we have with Russia, an absolutely strategic partnership on every level.

“We hope that Russian society will show restraint, that violence will be avoided, that the freedom to demonstrate will be respected,” Juppe said.

David Cameron’s spokesman said the British prime minister would call Putin later on Monday but without specifying whether he would offer congratulations.

The spokesman added that Britain hopes issues such as “unequal campaign conditions” would be addressed.

Britain wants a “constructive relationship with Russia” after years of tense ties, added the spokesman, a message echoed by Berlin.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his government would like to cooperate with Putin “constructively and in a trusting way.”

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis also said that “whatever the election results, Lithuania will continue to seek dialogue based on mutual respect and is ready to develop relations that would benefit the peoples of both countries.”

The high turnout at the polls “demonstrates that Russian society longs for democracy and is ready to strive ever more actively for the changes that are necessary for the state,” he said.

“It is important that the changes in the society which started last year after the Russian Duma elections on December 4 should not halt,” added the minister from the former Soviet-ruled republic that has rocky ties with the Kremlin.

Bulgarian and Serbian leaders meanwhile congratulated Putin.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov wished him “successful and beneficial work for the prosperity of the Russian people and the peace and cooperation in Europe and the world.”

Serbian President Boris Tadic stressed “historic and spiritual” relations between Belgrade and Moscow and said they should develop their “economic and commercial relations in future in the best possible way.”

Japan has had at times a fraught relationship with Russia, with tensions revolving around a dispute over sovereignty over a chain of islands.

But in a phone call, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda congratulated Putin and expressed hope for the “wise” resolution of the island dispute.

“(Noda) said he wants to cooperate with Prime Minister Putin in resolving the territorial issue wisely,” said the statement from Japan’s foreign ministry, referring to the islands at the northern tip of the Japanese archipelago.

China’s President Hu Jintao also congratulated Putin, according to the foreign ministry in Beijing.

“At 3 o’clock, President Hu Jintao sent a message of congratulations,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin at a regular briefing.

“We believe that Russia will maintain social and political stability and economic development and play a bigger role in international affairs.”

Moscow and Beijing are both veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, and have infuriated the West by blocking two UN resolutions against Assad.

In his reaction, the Syrian president congratulated Putin on a “remarkable” victory.

“He offered in his name and that of the Syrian people his sincere congratulations for his remarkable election,” the official SANA news agency reported.