MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin was poised to be re-elected Sunday night, the widely anticipated outcome, extending his rule into a third decade and raising questions about what six more years under his helm will bring.
With ballots counted from 60 percent of the vast country’s precincts, Putin had won more than 75 percent of the vote. Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin had 12.5 percent, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, had 6 percent. TV personality-turned-politician Ksenia Sobchak, whose father was Putin’s political mentor, came in with 1.4 percent of the vote.
Putin’s share was much higher than the 63.6 percent he was credited with in 2012.
Vladimir Putin wins re-election for fourth term
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There was wide speculation about how many people would turn out to vote and hand Putin a convincing mandate for a fourth term in office.
Election observers reported numerous fraud allegations. The Central Election Commission, or CEC, said it opened 13 criminal cases related to the election.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was not registered as a candidate over what he calls a fabricated criminal case against him, encouraged his supporters to boycott the vote, saying high voter turnout would only help legitimize an election with no real competition.
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Sunday afternoon, Navalny told reporters that his election observers recorded a 12 percent to 18 percent discrepancy in voter turnout compared to the official numbers released by the CEC.
Russian election: Surveillance video allegedly shows vote rigging
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Despite the allegations of fraud, no protests or marches were staged as results were rolling in. Instead, a big celebration marking the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea took place in Manezhnaya Square in central Moscow.
Putin made an appearance at the event before final results were announced, thanking his supporters. «We are destined for success,» Putin yelled to the crowd as people chanted his name.
Vladimir Putin at a rally and concert celebrating the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow on Sunday. Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP Pool
Speaking to reporters later, Putin said he was grateful for people’s trust and called for unity in the face of political differences.
Asked by a reporter whether the Russian public could expect to see «an old or new Vladimir Putin,» the president replied: «Everything changes. We all change.»
Putin was also asked about the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England and what it might mean for Russia’s relationship with Europe.
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Russia expelled 23 British diplomats on Saturday in a retaliatory measure after Britain accused the Kremlin of responsibility for the poisoning. British Prime Minister Theresa May kicked 23 Russian diplomats out of Britain last week.
Putin denied that Russia was responsible for the attack, which he called a «tragedy.»
«Any sensible person understands that it’s a complete fantasy, rubbish, nonsense, that someone in Russia might do something like this on the eve of the presidential elections and the World Cup,» Putin said. «It’s simply unthinkable. Nonetheless, irrespective of all these difficulties, we are ready to work together and ready to discuss any subject and to overcome any difficulties.»
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Putin has spent almost 14 years as president, and he spent four years in two stints as prime minister. Another six-year term would extend his lock on power to 24 years — longer than any Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.
As voters cast their votes Sunday in Moscow, many reflected on what the next six years could bring.
Members of a local election commission in St. Petersburg empty a ballot box as they start counting votes during Russia's presidential election on Sunday. Olga Maltseva / AFP — Getty Images
Mikhail, 35, who didn’t want to give his last name, said he voted for Putin and welcomed the status quo. «I am happy with everything,» he said.
Inna Kovalskaya, 74, a retiree, also voted for Putin, but she said she does want to see change — a stronger economy and a tougher stance on corruption. «And a higher pension for myself,» she added.
College professor Igor Esipov, 73, voted for the Grudinin of the Communist Part. He said the future looked bleak. «There is no economy other than the gas line. We are left vulnerable,» Esipov said.
He added that Putin did a lot for the country but that he is past his prime as president. «He accomplished his mission by year 2008, or maybe even 2012. That was the peak of his success. He was necessary and important for the country then … but we need someone else now,» Episov said.
Putin’s most recent term as president has been marked by an escalating conflict between Russia and the West, as seen on at least four fronts: Ukraine, Syria, the United States and, most recently, the spy poisoning scandal. Tensions over the issues have led to suggestions of a new cold war.
Less than three weeks before the election, Putin revealed Russia’s new array of nuclear-capable weapons, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that renders defense systems «useless,» he said.
The Russian constitution bars Putin from running in 2024 because of a two-term limit, but he would be eligible to run again in 2030, when he would be 77. Putin dismissed the possibility of running again in 12 years.
«Will I be doing this till I am a hundred years old?» he asked, before responding, «No.»