Erdoğan congratulates Putin on election victory in phone call

Cossacks exit a polling booth in Rostov-on Don

His nearest rival, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, won 11.8%, according to near final results, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky got 5.6%.

There were widespread reports of forced voting Sunday, efforts to make Russian Federation appear to be a robust democracy.

Despite tensions between Russian Federation and the West being at an all-time high, it was the outcome widely expected as the country went to the polls. In previous races, he won 53 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, 71 percent in 2004 and 64 percent in 2012.

As The Associated Press noted, Putin's "only real challenge was to run up the tally so high that he could claim an indisputable mandate".

By 5pm Moscow time, authorities said turnout had hit almost 52%.

Russia is now at odds with the West over Syria and Ukraine; allegations of cyber attacks and meddling in foreign elections; and the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.

Since then, London has accused Moscow of being behind the killing of a former double agent on British soil, leading to tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions.

Russian officials denounced both cases as efforts to interfere in the Russian election.

His comments, which are likely to be heard with some scepticism in the West following years of confrontation, mark a change in tone after a bellicose election campaign during which Putin unveiled new nuclear weapons he said could strike nearly any point in the world.

Russian President and Presidential candidate Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a rally and concert marking the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Crimea region, at Manezhnaya Square in central Moscow, Russia March 18, 2018.

It was "unacceptable" that the Russian election also took place in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine four years ago in breach of worldwide law, the minister said.

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.

With more than 56 million votes, it was Putin's biggest ever win and the largest by any post-Soviet Russian leader.

In his next six years in office, Mr Putin is likely to assert Russia's power overseas even more strongly. Just weeks ago, he announced that Russian Federation has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of evading missile defenses. The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Moscow's foothold in the Middle East, and Russia eagerly eyes any reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as an economic opportunity.

"The program that I propose for the country is the right one", he declared.



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