Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday faced another six years in power after a record win in the presidential election, but congratulations from abroad were largely muted after opponents accused him of rigging the vote and amid Moscow’s worsening relations with the West .
Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, recorded his best ever election performance with 76.66 percent of the vote, but rejected the possibility of staying in power indefinitely.
Opposition and independent monitors reported ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud as the Kremlin pushed for a high turnout to give greater legitimacy to Putin’s historic fourth term.
However, Putin’s supporters said Western pressure on Putin, including Britain’s accusations in a spy row and the Olympic doping ban, prompted Russians to close ranks behind their leader.
Putin, who is now set to extend his rule until at least 2024 and is already the Kremlin’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin, appeared to rule out remaining president for life.
“What, am I going to sit here until I am 100 years old? No,” he told reporters on Sunday night, when asked if he saw himself running for president again in 2030.
The Russian strongman ran against seven candidates, but his most vocal opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt.
“I see in this [result] the confidence and hope of our people,” a beaming Putin told supporters on a square next to the Kremlin on Sunday night.
Putin’s campaign spokesman Andrei Kondrashov said that at more than 67 percent, turnout was 8 to 10 percentage points higher than expected “thanks to Britain.”
Navalny’s movement and the non-governmental election monitor Golos reported ballot stuffing, repeat voting and Putin supporters being bussed into polling stations en masse.
The electoral commission dismissed most concerns, saying there were no serious violations.
Putin received more than 92 percent of the vote in Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
China was the first world power to react Putin’s re-election, with Xinhua news agency quoting Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) as saying: “China is willing to work with Russia to keep promoting China-Russia relations to a higher level.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that Merkel would congratulate Putin, but would also broach “challenges” in their relations.
Other leaders who have congratulated Putin so far were Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had congratulated Putin and they agreed to work together for North Korea’s denuclearization.
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