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Vladimir Putin has claimed a fifth presidential term with a landslide victory in a tightly controlled election that has been condemned by the West as neither free nor fair as the Russian leader seeks to prove overwhelming popular support for his full-scale invasion of Ukraine and increasingly repressive policies.

With 99.75 percent of ballots counted, Putin won another six-year term with a post-Soviet record of 87.29 percent of the vote, the Central Elections Committee (TsIK) said on March 18, adding that turnout was also at a "record" level, with 77.44 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.

The 71-year old Putin -- who has ruled as either president or prime minister since 2000 -- is now set to surpass Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s nearly 30-year reign to become the longest-serving Russian leader in more than two centuries.

"This election has been based on repression and intimidation," the European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told journalists in Brussels on March 18 as the bloc's foreign ministers gathered to discuss the election, among other issues.

The March 15-17 vote is the first for Putin since he launched his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 that has killed tens of thousands of Russians and led to a clear break in relations with the West. In holding what has widely been viewed as faux elections, Putin wants to show that he has the nation’s full support, experts said.

The vote was also held in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers are located. Moscow illegally annexed the regions since launching the invasion, though it remains unclear how much of the territory it controls.

The Kremlin's goal "is to get as many people as possible to sign off on Russia's war against Ukraine. The idea is to get millions of Russian citizens to retroactively approve the decision Putin single-handedly made two years ago," Maksim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, wrote in a note ahead of the vote.

In remarks shortly after he was declared the winner, Putin said the election showed that the nation was "one team."

But Western leaders condemned the vote, with the White House National Security Council spokesperson saying they "are obviously not free nor fair given how Mr. Putin has imprisoned political opponents and prevented others from running against him."

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said "this is not what free and fair elections look like," adding in his message on X, formerly Twitter, that illegal elections have also been held on occupied Ukrainian territory.

The French Foreign Ministry said Putin's reelection came amid a wave of repression against civil society. It also praised in a statement the courage of "the many Russian citizens who peacefully protested against this attack on their fundamental political rights."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Putin has become "sick with power" and he is just "simulating" elections.

"This imitation of 'elections' has no legitimacy and cannot have any. This person must end up in the dock in The Hague [at the International UN Tribunal for War Crimes]," Zelenskiy said on X.

Putin's allies were quick to heap praise on the Russian leader for his election success.

China, one of Russia's most importants allies, congratulated Putin, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian saying President Xi Jinping and the Russian leader "will continue to maintain close exchanges, lead the two countries to continue to uphold long-standing good-neighborly friendship, deepen comprehensive strategic coordination."

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called Putin's victory "decisive," the state news agency IRNA reported.

WATCH: Leading psychiatrists discuss how excessive power can impact brain functioning and what the impulse for total control reveals about the mind and personality traits of authority figures.

Putin was opposed by three relatively unknown, Kremlin-friendly politicians whose campaign was barely noticeable. The main intrigue was whether Russians would heed opposition calls to gather at polling stations at noon on March 17 to silently protest against Putin’s rule.

Russian media had reported in the months leading up to the election that the Kremlin was determined to engineer a victory for Putin that would surpass the 2018 results, when he won 77.5 percent of the vote with a turnout of 67.5 percent.

The Kremlin banned anti-war politician Boris Nadezhdin from the ballot after tens of thousands of voters lined up in the cold to support his candidacy. Nadezhdin threatened to undermine the narrative of overwhelming support for Putin and his war, experts said.

Independent election observers were barred from working at this year’s presidential election for the first time in post-Soviet history, experts said. Russian elections have been notorious for ballot stuffing and other irregularities.

The vote was also held in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers are located.

The United States called the elections neither fair nor free.

'Noon Against Putin'

With options to express resistance severely limited by the lack of competition and repressive laws, opposition leaders called on voters opposed to Putin to gather near polls at noon to show the Kremlin and the country that they were still a force.

Russia's opposition movement suffered a serious blow last month when Aleksei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest and most popular critic, died in unclear circumstances in a maximum-security prison in the Arctic where he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism widely seen as politically motivated.

Long lines formed at polling stations across Russia's 11 time zones at the designated time for the "Noon Against Putin" protest, including in Novosibirsk, Chita, Yekaterinburg, Perm, and Moscow among other Russian cities.

"We're not really expecting anything, but I'd somehow like to make a record of this election for myself, tick the box for myself, so, when talking about it later, I could say that I didn't just sit at home, but came and tried to do something," said one Russian who came to vote at noon.

"The action has achieved its goals," Ivan Zhdanov, the head the Anti-Corruption Foundation formerly headed by Navalny, said in a YouTube video. "The action has shown that there is another Russia, there are people who stand against Putin."

The Moscow prosecutor's office had earlier warned of criminal prosecution against those who interfered with the vote, a step it said was necessary due to social-media posts "containing calls for an unlimited number of people to simultaneously arrive to participate in uncoordinated mass public events at polling stations in Moscow [at noon on March 17] in order to violate electoral legislation."

Lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina, who has left the country, told Current Time that if people do not bring posters and do not announce why they came to the polling station at that hour, it would be hard for the authorities to legitimately declare it a "violation."

But she warned that there were "some basic safety rules that you can follow if you're worried. The first is not to discuss why you came, just to vote. And secondly, it is better to come without any visual means of agitation: without posters, flags, and so on."

Ella Pamfilova, head of Russia's Central Election Commission (TsIK), on March 16 said there had been 20 cases of people attempting to destroy voting sheets by pouring liquids into ballot boxes and eight incidents of people trying to destroy ballots by setting them on fire or by using smoke bombs.

Russians living abroad also took part in the "Noon Against Putin" campaign, with hundreds of people lining up at 12 p.m. outside the Russian embassies in Sidney, Tokyo, Phuket, Dubai, Istanbul, Berlin, Paris, and Yerevan among other capitals.

"It's not an election. It's just a fake. And so we're here to show that not Russians elect the current leader of Russia, that we [are] against him very severely, and that lots of people had to flee their country to be free," said Anna, a Russian citizen living in Berlin and who gathered outside the embassy in the German capital.

Putin was challenged by Liberal Democratic Party leader Leonid Slutsky, State Duma deputy speaker Vladislav Davankov of the New People party, and State Duma lawmaker Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party, none of whom opposed the war.

The Russian leader had the full resources of the state behind him, including the media, police, state-owned companies, and election officials.


This content originally appeared on News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and was authored by News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

Citations

[1] Maxim Trudolyubov | Wilson Center ➤ https://www.wilsoncenter.org/person/maxim-trudolyubov[2]https://tass.ru/politika/20264303[3] x.com ➤ https://twitter.com/David_Cameron/status/1769436775473135966[4] x.com ➤ https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa/status/1769437078352187655[5] "Полдень против Путина": как прошла акция в третий день голосования. Главное ➤ https://www.currenttime.tv/a/tretiy-den-golosovaniya-rossia-aktsiya-polden-protiv-putina-glavnoe/32864913.html[6] Telegram: Contact @moscowproc ➤ https://t.me/moscowproc/4068