Putin has genuine support in Russia: Finnish FM


Russia's presidential election was tainted Sunday by unprecedented pressure on voters to turn out and incidents of suspected ballot box stuffing _ a barely democratic exercise that will grant Vladimir Putin another six years of power.

Addressing a rally in Moscow after the early results were declared, Mr Putin said voters had "recognised the achievements of the last few years".

In Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine exactly four years ago on Sunday, Putin won more than 92 percent of the vote. His nearest challenger, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, got around 13 per cent, according to partial results, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky got around 6 per cent.

Yet it might feel that long for his opponents after an election victory that has ensured by 2024, only Joseph Stalin will have served longer at the helm of post-imperial Russian Federation.

His lawyer Ivan Zhdanov said the actual national turnout at 1700 GMT, when polls closed in Moscow, was 55 percent, according to data collected by monitors.

"It's very important to maintain this unity", said Putin, before leading the crowd in repeated chants of "Russia!"

But online groups set up to record voting violations reported hundreds of problems Sunday that cast a shadow over the official turnout figures.

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It said Monday that Russia's Central Election Commission "administered the election efficiently and openly" and noted that "after intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers".

But the disputes likely worked in Putin's favour, reinforcing the official stance that the West is infected with "Russophobia" and determined to undermine both Putin and traditional Russian values.

"I think that in the United States and Britain they've understood they can not influence our elections", Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament, said on state television.

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house, hailed the victory as a moral one over the West.

Russian President and Presidential candidate Vladimir Putin at his campaign headquarters on March 18. "People came together. No other country in the world has such open and transparent elections".

Putin's most serious foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race. A senior opposition politician has warned they could descend into street clashes if police crackdown too hard on demonstrators.

The longer-term question is whether Putin will now soften his anti-Western rhetoric. During that speech, he unveiled new nuclear weapons and delivery systems, saying they could hit nearly any point in the world and evade a US -built missile shield.

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Germany's foreign minister is calling on Russian Federation to make more "constructive contributions" to dialogue after President Vladimir Putin won re-election.

Britain and Russian Federation last week announced expulsions of diplomats over the spy case and the U.S. issued new sanctions.

Sunday marked four years since Putin signed a treaty declaring Crimea to be part of Russian Federation in a move that triggered a pro-Kremlin insurgency in east Ukraine, a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

Officials and analysts say there is little agreement among Putin's top policymakers on an economic strategy for his new term.

Putin has never faced a serious threat to his rule since he came to power on the eve of the new millennium.

Putin's supporters said Western pressure on the Russian leader, including British allegations of his involvement in a spy poisoning row and an Olympic doping ban, had prompted people to close ranks behind him.

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