Senior officials say decisive victory reflects popular support for muscular foreign policy

Senior Russian officials have said that Vladimir Putin's decisive win in the presidential elections reflects popular support for his muscular foreign policy and would bolster his role as a counterweight to the west.

” It is now obvious to everyone that Putin pursues an independent foreign policy and stands up for the national interests that the citizens of our country share ,” Valentina Matviyenko, head of the federation council, told the Russia 24 television station on Monday.” This strengthens his capabilities, this strengthens his weight, this strengthens his authority in the world .”

But Putin sought to play the peacemaker at a meeting with his seven defeated presidential challengers in the Kremlin.” We have no intention of engaging in some kind of limbs race ,” he said.” Merely the opposite, we will seek to develop constructive relations with other countries. We will do all we can to solve all disagreements with our partners utilizing political and diplomatic means .”

Putin's victory, with a 76.7% share of the vote, comes amid high tensions between London and Moscow over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in the UK on Monday to begin testing samples from the 4 March attack, which Putin has denied was Moscow's do.

Putin election victory

There was a certain swagger in Moscow after Putin's victory. His campaign head thanked Great Britain for mobilising Russian voters over the nerve agent attack. Putin's first executive order of the day was to call up army reservists for military training.

But opposition activists highlighted a number of cases of vote rigging and statistical anomalies, including millions of elections cast in polling place that recorded exactly 85%, 90% and 95% turnout. The respected Russian business daily Vedomosti also noted the appearance of virtually 1.5 million elections overnight, equivalent to 2% of the vote.

The total number of ballots cast on Sunday for Putin, who has spent 18 years as Russia's most powerful politician, surpassed 56.2 m. That was a record total, even discounting the nearly 1m referendums he gained as a result of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe( OSCE) said here on Monday there had been no real selection in Russia's presidential election and complained it had been marked by unfair pressure on critical voices.

” Choice without real rivalry, as we have seen here, is not real choice ,” the OSCE said in a statement, adding that restrictions on fundamental freedoms, as well as on nominee enrollment, had restriction the space for political engagement. Russia's central national elections commission said on Monday morning that it had not registered any serious complaints of violations.

Vladimir
Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with opposition candidates who ran against him in Sunday's presidential election. Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/ AP

Putin's most serious rival, the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was be prohibited from the race. The central national elections commission said that the communist candidate, Pavel Grudinin, came second with 11.8% of the voting rights, and third was the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky( 5.6% ). The only candidate to openly criticise Putin during the campaign, the liberal Tv starring Ksenia Sobchak, won 1.6%.

Putin has never faced a serious threat to his rule since he came to power on the eve of the millennium development goals. He won 53% of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, 71% in 2004 and 63% in 2012.

Turnout at the elections on Sunday was more than 67%, the commission reported. The Kremlin had initially sought a 70% share of the vote with 70% turnout but was said to have lowered its expectations as the election described closer.

About 10 million more Russians voted for Putin than in 2012, when he appeared on the defensive after mass voter scam at parliamentary elections sparked protests in Moscow and other major cities.

Perhaps the most surprising result came from Moscow itself, where Putin won simply 47% of the voting in the 2012 elections. On Sunday he took 70% of the capital city, one of the main bastions of the opposition.

The opposition pointed to video evidence of voter irregularities at a number of polling stations across Russia. They included ballot stuffing and assaults on some vote commentators, as well as reports of ballots being cast by “dead souls”, people who have died but remain on the electoral rolls.

In one video shared online from the Siberian region of Yakutia, voters patiently queued behind a man shoving ballots into the ballot box.

Turnout is usually highest in the North Caucasus, where a machine of administrative support regularly pushes turnout, and vote share for Putin, above 90%. In Dagestan an election monitor said he was beaten by a crowd of several dozen men. During the encounter turnout at his polling site jumped significantly.

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One polling place in Chechnya, where observers managed to remain until the end of voting, indicated only 35% turnout. In others where there were no commentators it was close to 100%.

The Kremlin had pushed a broad get-out-the-vote campaign before the elections, apparently concerned that Putin's popularity might not be enough to get voters to the polls. Incentives included raffles for awards including iPhone Xs and cars.

On Sunday night Putin's campaign chairwoman proclaimed turnout to be high, and needled London by suggesting that it may have been a rally-round-the-flag response by voters to the accusations of Russian involvement in the nerve agent attack on a former snoop in the UK.

” Right now the turnout numbers are higher than we expected. We need to thank Great Britain for that because once again they did not consider the Russian mentality ,” the chairman said.” Once again we were subject to pressure at merely the moment when we needed to mobilise .”

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