Vladimir Putin claims victory with rivals trounced in Russian election

Vladimir Putin has won a fourth term as Russia’s president, adding six years in the Kremlin for the man who has led the world’s largest country for all of the 21st century.

Mr Putin addressed thousands of people who rallied outside the Kremlin on Sunday to thank them for their support and promised new achievements.

Speaking to a crowd who attended a pop concert marking his election victory, Mr Putin hailed those who voted for him as a “big national team”, adding that “we are bound for success”.

He said that the nation needs unity to move forward and urged the audience to “think about the future of our great motherland”.

He then led the enthusiastic crowd to chant “Russia!”

Results from more than half of precincts showed Putin winning over 75% of the vote, with Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin and ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky trailing far behind with about 13 and 6%, respectively.

The vote was tainted by widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the complaints will likely do little to undermine Mr Putin.

The Russian leader’s popularity remains high despite his suppression of dissent and reproach from the West over Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance in world affairs and alleged interference in the 2016 US election.

Mr Putin’s main challenge in the vote was to obtain a huge margin of victory in order to claim an indisputable mandate.

The Central Elections Commission said Mr Putin had won about 73% of the vote, based on a count of 30% of the country’s precincts.

Russian authorities had sought to ensure a large turnout to bolster the image that Mr Putin’s so-called “managed democracy” is robust and offers Russians true choices.

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By 5pm Moscow time, authorities said turnout had hit nearly 52%.

Mr Put had faced seven minor candidates on the ballot.

His most vehement foe, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was rejected as a presidential candidate because he was convicted of fraud in a case widely regarded as politically motivated.

Mr Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.

The election came amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with reports that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning this month of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, in Britain and that its internet trolls had mounted an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 US presidential election.

Britain and Russia last week announced tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions over the spy case and the United States issued new sanctions.

Russian officials denounced both cases as efforts to interfere in the Russian election.

But the disputes likely worked in Mr Putin’s favour, reinforcing the official stance that the West is infected with “Russophobia” and determined to undermine both Mr Putin and traditional Russian values.

The election took place on the fourth anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, one of the most dramatic manifestations of Putin’s drive to reassert Russia’s power.

Crimea and Russia’s subsequent support of separatists in eastern Ukraine led to an array of US and European sanctions that, along with falling oil prices, damaged the Russian economy and slashed the ruble’s value by half. But Putin’s popularity remained strong, apparently buttressed by nationalist pride.

In his next six years in office, Mr Putin is likely to assert Russia’s power abroad even more strongly.

Just weeks before the election, he announced that Russia has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of evading missile defences.

The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Russia’s foothold in the Middle East and Russia eagerly eyes possible reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as a lucrative economic opportunity.

At home, Mr Putin will be faced with how to groom a successor or devise a strategy to circumvent term limits, how to drive diversification in an economy still highly dependent on oil and gas and how to improve medical care and social services in Russian regions far removed from the cosmopolitan glitter of Moscow.

Casting his ballot in Moscow, Mr Putin was confident of victory, saying he would consider any percentage of votes a success.

“The programme that I propose for the country is the right one,” he declared.

Press Association

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