Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential race Sunday by an apparently calculated landslide — amid a brazen display of election meddling.
Putin’s win of a fourth six-year term was tainted by widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the complaints will likely do little to undermine him.
The longtime Russian leader took more than 75% of the vote, according to the Central Elections Commission, beating seven candidates — including the daughter of his late mentor.
His victory comes as he faces mounting scrutiny from the West for Russian meddling in the United States’ 2016 election.
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Putin has vehemently denied the charges — even as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation indicted 13 Russian nationals and a handful of companies last month for infiltrating the election process.
In a speech near Red Square late Sunday, Putin thanked his thousands of supporters and called for unity, saying his nation is “bound for success.”
He turned prickly, however, as he dodged questions about his plans beyond this term.
“It’s ridiculous,” the 65-year-old Putin said. “Do you think I will sit here until I turn 100?”
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Ballot-stuffing allegations across Russia dogged Putin’s reelection, and reports of forced voting across the country were illustrated with scores of people rushing to the polls.
“People were coming in all at once, (they) were entering in groups as if a tram has arrived at a stop,” Sergei Krivonogov, an observer at a polling site, told The Associated Press.
One chief of a polling station was suspended after a ballot-stuffing incident and a man in Artyom, about 22 miles northeast of Vladivostok in far eastern Russia, was arrested for tossing multiple ballots.
The Kremlin reportedly pressured local leaders to boost voter turnout as Putin tried to keep his popularity high. Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman said a mandate came “from higher up” to make sure turnout was 60% in the presidential race.
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By Sunday night , election observer group Golos had tallied more than 2,000 questionable incidents in Russia, CNN reported.
Alexey Navalny, a Putin critic who was banned from running, tweeted several charges of a rigged election.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an American who took asylum in Russia in 2013, also shared a video he said showed election fraud.
“The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people. Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter. Take your future back,” Snowden tweeted.
Putin, a former KGB colonel, has held power in Russia since becoming president in 1999. Term limits knocked him into the prime minister slot in 2008, but he was reelected president in 2012.
His challengers included Ksenia Sobchak, a TV anchor and daughter of late Putin mentor Anatoly Sobchak.
Dissident figures criticized Russia’s former “It Girl” for making a farce opposition run to discredit Putin’s critics. Sobchak denied the claim.
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