'Landslide victory' for Putin in the North Caucasus

Putin eyes fourth term in polls as opposition cries foul

"The leaders warmly congratulated Putin on his sweeping victory in the presidential election in Russian Federation yesterday, and wished him further success in his responsible state post".

Worldwide leaders were slow to congratulate the Russian president after a Sunday election that saw him take nearly 77 percent of the vote, as monitors reported ballot stuffing and other alleged cases of fraud. "I don't want to be a part of a cartoonish opposition that you are painting now together with Putin".

"I am sure the programme I am offering is the right one", said the man who is already Russia's longest-serving leader since Stalin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to supporters during a rally near the Kremlin in Moscow, Sunday, March 18, 2018.

With more than 56 million votes, it was Mr. Putin's biggest ever win and the largest by any post-Soviet Russian leader.

Among them were two election observers in Gorny Shchit, a rural district of Yekaterinburg, who told The Associated Press they saw an unusually high influx of people going to the polls between noon and 2 p.m.

While Russia's constitution prohibits Putin from seeking a fifth term as president in 2024, he could seek to amend the constitution before then to allow himself to run on an unlimited basis for the rest of his life.

The election exercise was a huge logistical undertaking, taking place across Russia's 11 time zones over 22 hours in approximately 98,000 polling stations.

Ukraine, insulted by the decision to hold the election on the anniversary of Crimea's annexation, refused to let ordinary Russians vote.

"Several foreign leaders - I won't say their names - made their contribution", said head of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova.

In an outcome that was never in doubt, the Central Election Commission, with almost 100 percent of the votes counted, announced that Putin, who has run Russian Federation as president or prime minister since 1999, had won 76.66 percent of the vote.

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But Putin's supporters said Western pressure on Putin including Britain's accusations in a spy row and the Olympic doping ban prompted Russians to close ranks behind their leader.

First-time voters in Moscow were given free tickets for pop concerts and health authorities were offering free cancer screenings.

Vladimir Putin's record election win has been marred by allegations of widespread vote rigging and intimidation.

And a parade of pro-Kremlin commentators, politicians, and officials claimed that Putin's victory represented nothing less than the unity and determination of a people under siege.

Selfie competitions, giveaways, food festivals and children's entertainers were laid on at polling stations in a bid to create a festive atmosphere around the election.

Crimea and Russia's subsequent support of separatists in eastern Ukraine led to an array of USA and European sanctions that, along with falling oil prices, damaged the Russian economy and slashed the ruble's value by half.

Even so, Putin will use his next six years to assert his vision of a strong Russian Federation, according to Joerg Forbrig, senior program director of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.

The poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain along with fresh sanctions from Washington over allegations of meddling in the U.S. 2016 election have isolated Moscow to an extent not seen since the Cold War.

Putin's campaign spokesman Andrei Kondrashov said that at more than 67 per cent, turnout was 8 to 10 percentage points higher than expected "thanks to Britain". Sobchak and Zhirinovsky clashed at a presidential debate Putin did not bother to attend when Zhirinovsky insulted Sobchak and she threw a glass of water in his face.

State-run pollsters predict Putin will take about 70 percent of the vote, with the independent Levada Centre - branded a "foreign agent" - barred from releasing any polls.

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