Preliminary Results Say Putin Won Presidential Elections

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"Another six years of slavery", said a piece of paper made up to look like a ballot which was spotted on a Moscow street - in an apparent reference to Putin's next term.

Exit polls, published as soon as voting ended, showed that Mr Putin's closest opponent, Pavel Grudinin, was only projected to win 11.2%.

Vladimir Putin has unsurprisingly won Russia's presidential election, gaining at least 73.9% of the vote, exit polls say.

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Putin had faced seven minor candidates on the ballot.

Russia's parliament, which is controlled by Putin's United Russia party, moved the vote date back to March 18 to coincide with the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Britain and Russian Federation last week announced tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions over the spy case and the United States issued new sanctions. But the disputes likely worked in Putin's favor, reinforcing the official contention that the West is infected with "Russophobia" and is determined to undermine Putin and Russian cultural values.

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Crimea and Russia's subsequent support of separatists in eastern Ukraine led to an array of United States and European sanctions that, along with falling oil prices, damaged the Russian economy and slashed the ruble's value by half.

In addition, USA federal prosecutors are investigating whether Russian-linked groups interfered during the 2016 presidential election. But Putin's popularity remained strong, apparently buttressed by nationalist pride.

Many voters credit Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy, with standing up for Russia's interests in a hostile outside world, even though the cost is confrontation with the West.

Putin's bellicose language reached a crescendo before the election in a state-of-the-nation speech when he unveiled new nuclear weapons, saying they could hit nearly any point in the world and evade a US -built missile shield.

The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Russia's foothold in the Middle East and Russia eagerly eyes possible reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as a lucrative economic opportunity.

Putin stated that our country is a democratic one, that our courts are fair, but he is lying.

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Given the lack of real competition, authorities struggled against voter apathy, in the process putting many of Russia's almost 111 million voters under intense pressure to cast ballots. VTsIOM said in a statement that over 37 percent of those polled refused to say who they voted for.

Voters appeared to be turning in out in larger numbers Sunday than in the last presidential election in 2012, when Putin faced a serious opposition movement and there were violations of multiple voting, ballot stuffing and coercion.

Putin's re-election comes amid rising tension with the West, particularly with the United Kingdom, which last week accused Russian Federation of using a nerve agent to poison a former spy and his daughter living in England.

Most people who spoke to AFP said they voted for Putin, praising him for lifting the country out of the post-Soviet quagmire.

Navalny's headquarters said activists sent out to monitor the vote reported people being bused to polling stations by their employers.

Security forces are surrounding Russian facilities in Ukraine amid anger over the Ukrainian government's refusal to allow ordinary Russians to vote for president.

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Yugene Yarmakov, 23, who was voting for the first time, said there were too many "joke candidates".

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