Vladimir Putin easily wins fourth term, exit poll suggests
Russian president set for six more years after taking more than 70% of the vote
President Vladimir Putin walks out of a voting booth at a polling station during Russia’s presidential election in Moscow. Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images
Russians flocked to the polls on Sunday to vote in a presidential poll that looked set to deliver Vladimir Putin an overwhelming victory bolstered by a strong turnout.
Exit polls indicated that Mr Putin had won between 70 and 74 per cent of votes, breaking the record of all three earlier presidential elections he has fought.
Pavel Grudinin, the Russian Communist Party candidate, looked set to come second, with about 11 per cent of the vote. Ksenia Sobchak, a TV celebrity and liberal opposition activist, won about 2 per cent.
Russia’s central election commission reported that by 5pm Moscow time 51.9 per cent of Russia’s 110 million voters had taken part, up from 47.6 per cent recorded at the same time at the last election, in 2012. Observers monitoring the poll across Russia reported hundreds of violations, but for the most part the vote was conducted peacefully.
The election comes as Mr Putin faces escalating row with the west over UK allegations that the Kremlin was behind the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, in Salisbury on March 4th.
Russia lashed out at the UK on Saturday, expelling 23 diplomats from the British embassy in Moscow and ordering the closure of the British Council’s Russian mission, which promotes cultural ties between the two countries. The Russian foreign ministry gave the British envoys a week to leave the country in retaliation for the UK’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats last week.
Russia has rejected UK accusations that it had a hand in the attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, who collapsed after being poisoned by a highly toxic military-grade nerve agent. Russian lawmakers have claimed that the incident is “provocation” intended to vilify their country during the election.
Mr Putin looked relaxed on Sunday morning as he arrived at a polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, where he has voted at the trio of elections he won in 2000, 2004 and 2012. After more than 18 years as Russian president, Putin told reporters he would be happy with any result that would let him continue performing his duties.
With Putin’s victory virtually assured, election planners have focused on galvanising voters to turn out to provide an overwhelming popular endorsement of the president’s fourth term.
Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader and Russia’s most popular opposition leader, has been campaigning for a nationwide election boycott since being officially barred from the ballot, last December. On Sunday he lashed out at Ms Sobchak, accusing her of accepting a huge amount of money to stand in the election, in which she had been used as an “instrument of Putin” and as “a caricature liberal candidate”. Ms Sobchak denied the charges.
Allegations by opposition groups of widespread falsification at the election are likely to spur a slew of legal investigations. Open Russia, a democratic initiative founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled former oil oligarch, said activists had captured many incidents of fraud on camera and “countless individual testimonies” of fraud that showed the election was “an organised and controlled process for reappointing incumbent president Vladimir Putin”.
Election organisers tried to create a festive mood at polling stations, deploying volunteers to hand out balloons and badges to departing voters and offering discounted food at decorative stalls. At one polling station in southwest Moscow a mobile second World War kitchen was brought in to dispense hot buckwheat porridge, a popular Russian staple, to voters for free. “It’s just like an election in Soviet times,” said one pensioner. “I’m voting for Grudinin. Not because I like him, but I don’t want Putin to win.”