Brian Whitmore, FE/RL March 05, 2012
When Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went to the polls in Russia's weekend presidential election, he accidentally dropped his ballot paper on the floor before casting his vote.
Shortly after he left the polling station, activists from the Ukrainian women's rights group Femen showed up, stripped off their shirts, and tried to steal the ballot box while chanting "Putin is a thief" before being hauled off by police.
Minor indignities for the Russian leader, to be sure. But the symbolism was lost on few.
Putin claimed a decisive victory in the first round of the March 4 election, which was marred by claims of fraud by his opponents and independent observers. But the confident aura of invincibility and unchallenged authority that characterized his first two terms in the Kremlin appears to have faded beyond recognition, analysts say.
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