The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, won a landslide re-election victory on Sunday, extending his rule over the world’s largest country for another six years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory.
Putin’s victory will extend his total time in office to nearly a quarter of a century, until 2024, by which time he will be 71. the only Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ruled for longer. Putin has promised to use his fourth term to beef up Russia's defences against the West and to raise living standards.
In a widely expected outcome, an exit poll by state-owned pollster VTsIOM showed Mr. Putin, who has dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, had won 73.9 per cent of the vote. The Central Election Commission, speaking after almost a third of the votes had been counted, put Mr. Putin on 73 per cent.
Backed by state TV, the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating around 80 per cent, his victory was never in doubt. His nearest challenger, Communist Party candidate Mr. Pavel Grudinin, got just over 11 per cent, according to exit polls, while nationalist Mr. Vladimir Zhirinovsky got around 6 per cent.
None of the seven candidates who ran against him posed a threat, and opposition leader Mr. Alexei Navalny was barred from running. Critics alleged that officials had compelled people to come to the polls to ensure that voter boredom at the one-sided contest did not lead to a low turnout.
Russia’s Central Election Commission recognised that there were some irregularities, but was likely to dismiss wider criticism and declare the overall result legitimate. Putin loyalists said the result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West.
'I think that in the United States and Britain they’ve understood they cannot influence our elections,' Senator Igor Morozov said on state television.
Ms. Valentina Matviyenko, a close Putin ally and speaker of the upper house of parliament, hailed the victory as a moral one over the West.
'Our elections have proved once again ... that it's not possible to manipulate our people,' she said. 'People came together. No other country in the world has such open and transparent elections.'
The immediate question is if and when opponents like Navalny organise protests, citing fraud, and how large and sustained those protests will be. A senior opposition politician has warned they could descend into street clashes if police crack down too hard on demonstrators.
The longer-term question is whether Mr. Putin will soften his anti-Western rhetoric now the election is won.
His bellicose language reached a crescendo before the election in a state-of-the-nation speech when he unveiled new nuclear weapons, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield.