Russian Election: Putin declared the winner of a race that was never in doubt

Russian Election: Putin declared the winner of a race that was never in doubt

President Vladimir Putin extended his rule over Russia in a Landslide election whose outcome was never in doubt, declaring on Monday his determination to advance Deeper into Ukraine And new threats against the West.

After the harshest crackdown on dissent since Soviet times, it was clear from early reports that Putin was behind it He ruled for almost a quarter of a century He will serve a fifth term, giving him another six years. However, Russians responded to a call to protest Putin's repression and war in Ukraine by showing up to the polls at noon on Sunday.

More than 50 countries will go to the polls in 2024

With all precincts counted on Monday, election officials said Putin received a record number of votes, underscoring his complete control over the political system. US and other Western leaders denounced the elections as a sham.

Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the election was “neither free nor fair in any way.”

AP correspondent Charles De Ledesma reports.

Before the elections, Putin's biggest political enemy, Alexei Navalny, He died in an Arctic penal colony, anti-war candidates were banned from voting, and independent voices were silenced in Kremlin-backed media blockade. No independent monitoring organization was able to monitor the election, and analysts said online voting meant the vote was highly vulnerable to manipulation. any Public criticism of Putin Or his war was stifled in Ukraine.

On Monday evening, Putin appeared in Red Square in the heart of Moscow, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Putin's three presidential rivals appeared on stage alongside him and publicly supported him after campaigns in which none of them criticized him.

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Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since December 1999. At the end of his fifth term, he will be the longest-serving Russian leader since Catherine the Great, who ruled during the 18th century.

Emboldened by his landslide victory, Putin said he intended to form a government isolating area In Ukraine to protect Russia from bombing and cross-border attacks. When asked if it was possible for an open conflict to break out between Russia and NATO, Putin responded tersely, saying: “Anything is possible in today’s world,” adding: “It is clear to everyone that this will put us one step closer to a full-scale third world war.” “

Russian officials said they recruited more than 500,000 volunteers for the army last year, but many expect Putin to mobilize more forces to try to push deeper into Ukraine. Analysts say that in the post-election period, Russian authorities could take unpopular measures such as raising taxes.

Gould-Davies said the Kremlin was now “increasingly confident,” adding that Russian officials had “learned how passive the population is and how effective their repression is.”

The Russian Central Election Commission said on Monday that after counting all the electoral districts, Putin received 87% of the votes. The head of the Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said that nearly 76 million voters cast their votes for Putin.

Yulia Navalnaya, center, widow of Alexei Navalny, stands in line with other voters at a polling station near the Russian Embassy in Berlin, afternoon local time, Sunday, March 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized the elections and voting in the areas of his country that were illegally annexed by Russia, saying that “everything Russia does in the occupied territories of Ukraine is a crime.”

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In the United States, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said, “It was certainly an undemocratic process.”

Germany also strongly criticized the vote. “Russia, as the chancellor has already said, is now a dictatorship and is ruled by Vladimir Putin in an authoritarian manner,” said Christina Hoffmann, spokeswoman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Putin, as did North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the heads of countries that have historical and current relations with Russia, such as Azerbaijan and Belarus.

Navalny's associates urged those dissatisfied with Putin or the war to go to the polls at noon on Sunday – and the lines outside a number of polling stations inside Russia and at its embassies around the world appeared to be swelling at the time.

Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who spent more than five hours in line at the Russian embassy in Berlin, told reporters that she had written her late husband's name on her ballot.

Asked if she had a message for Putin, Navalnaya replied: “Please stop asking for messages from me or someone for Mr. Putin. “There can be no negotiations and nothing with Mr. Putin, because he is a murderer, he is a gangster.”

Putin noted Navalny by name For the first time in years, he announced at the press conference that he was willing to be released in exchange for unidentified prisoners in Western prisons just days before the opposition leader's death.

Navalny's supporters flocked to his grave in Moscow, some bringing ballot papers with his name written on them.

The Russian president downplayed the effectiveness of the apparent protest and dismissed Western criticism of the vote. Instead, he tried to turn the tables on the West, accusing the four criminal cases brought against former President Donald Trump of using the judiciary to achieve political goals.

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He added: “The whole world is laughing at him.”

Some people told the AP they were happy to vote for Putin — not surprising in a country where state television broadcasts a TV show. Beat the drums of praise for the Russian leader Expressing any other opinion is risky.

Dmitry Sergeenko, who voted in Moscow, said: “I am happy with everything and I want everything to continue as it is now.”

Voting took place over three days in polling stations throughout the vast country Illegally annexed areas of Ukraine And online.

Several people were arrested, including in Moscow and St. Petersburg, after they tried to start fires or set off explosives at polling stations, while a few others were detained for throwing green disinfectant or ink into ballot boxes. The police arrested more people for trying to protest.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests, said about 90 people were arrested in 22 cities across Russia on Sunday.

An activist with the Russian Liberties Association waves an opposition flag as she protests against President Vladimir Putin at the Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Sunday, March 17, 2024. Russians at home and abroad are heading to the polls for a presidential election that is certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after... Suppression of opposition.  (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

An activist with the Russian Liberties Association waves an opposition flag as she protests against President Vladimir Putin at the Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Sunday, March 17, 2024. Russians at home and abroad are heading to the polls for a presidential election that is certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after… Suppression of opposition. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits his campaign headquarters after the presidential election in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March 17, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits his campaign headquarters after the presidential election in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March 17, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Stanislav Andreychuk, co-chair of the independent election monitoring organization Golos, said Russians were searched upon entering polling stations, there were attempts to check filled-in ballots before they were cast, and one report said police asked to open a ballot box to remove one of the ballot boxes. Ballot.

Huge queues formed at noon outside diplomatic missions in London, Berlin, Paris and other cities with large Russian communities, many of whom left their homes after Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

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This story has been updated to correct that Putin referred to Navalny by name for the first time in years in his remarks after the polls closed.

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Follow AP's coverage of the Russian elections: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-election

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