MOSCOW -- Vladimir Churov, a veteran Russian election official and staunch ally of President Vladimir Putin, ended his nine-year tenure as head of the Central Election Commission on March 3 following a Kremlin decree.
Churov, who had served as the country's top election official since 2007, was a controversial figure, and his removal comes as authorities prepare for parliamentary elections in September with the country facing a potential second year of recession. He became a lightning rod for public anger following the December 2011 elections to the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, which were marred by allegations of voting fraud and sparked mass antigovernment protests.
Churov was also widely mocked for public statements and anecdotes that became kindling for opponents' portrayal of him as a brazen Kremlin sycophant.
Here are a few memorable moments from Churov's tenure.
'Putin Is Always Right'
The "first law" of Vladimir Churov is that "Putin is always right," Churov said in an interview with the Kommersant newspaper soon after his appointment to head the Central Election Commission in April 2007.
In December 2011, amid massive street protests sparked by alleged fraud in the parliamentary elections, Churov went to then-President Dmitry Medvedev to report on the election results, which had handed Putin's ruling United Russia party a victory.
In comments that angry opposition protesters quickly latched onto, Medvedev told Churov: "You're practically a magician. That's what some party leaders are calling you." Churov brushed the comment aside, saying, "I'm just learning," a quote from a classic Soviet film. The "magician" quickly became Churov's nickname among Russia's chattering classes, a moniker that proved difficult for him to shake.
Giving It 146 Percent
As state television network Rossiya-24 broadcast preliminary results of those same parliamentary elections in December 2011, it cited Central Election Commission figures as saying that turnout in the southern Rostov region had hit 146.47 percent. As ridicule mounted, the commission blamed the strange figures on the state TV journalists who, it said, had got their numbers wrong.
This, however, did little to subdue to the general mood of anger. The 146 percent result spawned a pervasive Internet meme, often targeting Churov, who claimed the tally was a "provocation" organized "from abroad" and carried out by a person "who later received a very nice place overseas."
Churov's reputation for securing the government's desired election results became the subject of jokes on major Russian television networks.
Days after the 2011 elections, prominent journalist Vladimir Pozner told a joke on air in which former U.S. President George W. Bush appeals to Putin for help for his Republican Party during U.S. congressional elections. Apparently keen to improve relations across the pond, Putin promises Bush he will send his best man, Vladimir Churov. Right after the elections, Churov calls Putin to report on the results: "Vladimir Vladimirovich, there has been some success," he begins. "In all 50 states, United Russia is leading."
Just A Defenseless Man
With the country gearing up for presidential elections in March 2012, Churov hit back at his critics in the opposition. He vilified protesters who called for his sacking after the 2011 parliamentary elections, saying: "They really are beating up a defenseless man."
"I'm wounded by the fact that they know that in this post, I cannot respond to them. They are using me because I cannot answer them," he was quoted as saying.
In the March 2012 presidential election that secured Putin's return to the Kremlin after his four-year stint as prime minister, Churov declared that Russia's elections are so squeaky clean that they are unparalleled in the world. He noted Russia's use of web cameras and transparent ballot boxes.
"Web-cameras and transparent ballot boxes for voting help people organize open, transparent, and clean elections like in Russia. Elections like this currently only happen in Russia," Churov said.
Churov has dismissed critics of the Central Election Commission as crazy, perhaps most memorably in November 2012.
"In Moscow at the moment it is fashionable to criticize TsIK," he said, using the Russian acronym for the commission. "It's like a kind of fashion, like dancing naked under the moon on Kolguyev Island during 40-degree frosts."