By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — The Obama administration on Monday congratulated the Russian people for turning out to vote in big numbers in this weekend's presidential election but said it was concerned by allegations of massive fraud and pointedly did not mention victor Vladimir Putin by name.
In a statement, the State Department said the U.S. would work with Russia's "president-elect" once the vote is certified. It noted that European observers had determined that "the election had a clear winner with an absolute majority." At the same time, it pointed out that the monitors had raised issues with the fairness of the campaign, partisan use of government resources and procedural irregularities on election day. It said those charges must be fully and credibly investigated.
"The United States congratulates the Russian people on the completion of the presidential elections, and looks forward to working with the president-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in the statement. She also welcomed some improvements in the electoral process but said additional steps would be needed to make it more transparent.
Putin won more than 63 percent of the vote according to the nearly complete official returns from Sunday's election. But the opposition and independent observers say the election has been marred by massive fraud and thousands of Russians gathered Monday for a massive rally to challenge Putin's victory, chanting "Shame!" and "Russia without Putin!"
The demonstrators are contesting the outcome of the vote, pointing to a campaign heavily slanted in Putin's favor and to reports of widespread violations in Sunday's ballot. International election monitors pointed at the lack of real competition and said the vote count "was assessed negatively" in almost a third of polling stations observers visited.
"We urge the Russian Government to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations," Nuland said.
Putin's win was assured as he faced a weak slate of Kremlin-approved candidates and many across the vast country still see him as a guarantor of stability and the defender of a strong Russia against a hostile world, an image he has carefully cultivated during 12 years in power. He has denounced his foes as Western stooges working to weaken Russia.