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Putin thanks Russia after predictable landslide win in elections, warns of 'World War III'

Partial results showed Putin winning 87 per cent of the votes in a contest without any serious opposition, extending his rule by six years surpassing that of Joseph Stalin. Other countries said the vote was neither free nor fair due to the imprisonment of political opponents and censorship.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Updated on: March 18, 2024 8:22 IST
Russia, Vladimir Putin, presidential elections, landslide win
Image Source : REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the public after a landslide win in the presidential elections.

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin, who extended his one-man rule by six years after clinching a predictable landslide win in the presidential elections without any serious competition, thanked the people who had come out to vote, saying the result of the elections will allow the Russian society to consolidate and become stronger. He also slammed Russia's top rival, the United States, as undemocratic and warned Western countries of a "World War III' if their troops entered Ukraine.

Putin won 87.8 per cent of the vote, the highest-ever result in Russia's post-Soviet history, according to an exit poll by pollster the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). The outcome means that the 71-year-old President is set for a new six-year term that will see him overtake former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and become Russia's longest-serving leader for over 200 years if he completes it. Most of Putin's opponents are either imprisoned, dead, or have fled abroad.

The United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and other nations have said the vote was neither free nor fair due to the imprisonment of political opponents and censorship. Putin had spent years ruthlessly suppressing the Russian opposition and limiting resources for independent media. Communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov finished second with just under 4 per cent, newcomer Vladislav Davankov third, and ultra-nationalist Leonid Slutsky fourth, partial results suggested.

High voter turnout

Nationwide turnout was 74.22 per cent when the polls closed, surpassing 2018 levels of 67.5 per cent, according to election officials. Thousands of Putin opponents protested at noon at polling stations inside Russia and abroad, and 74 people were arrested on Sunday in the country, according to OVD-Info.

Speaking on the election results on Monday morning, Putin said, "It (high turnout rate in election and high percentage of people who voted for Putin) has to do with the dramatic events that the country is going through, it has to do with the current situation, with the fact that we have to literally fight with weapons the interests of our citizens, our people, and create a future for the comprehensive, sovereign and secure development of the Russian Federation and our Fatherland."

"This unity will allow us to act effectively on the frontline, in the economy, humanitarian development, achieving the goals of social development projects. We have huge development plans... We have many tasks ahead. But when we are consolidated - no matter who wants to intimidate us, suppress us - nobody has ever succeeded in history, they have not succeeded now, and they will not succeed ever in the future," he added.

Putin on US democracy

When asked on whether his re-election was democratic, Putin criticised the US political and judicial systems, saying the whole world was laughing at what was happening in America. "This is just a disaster, not a democracy... In some countries, for example in your country, is it democratic to use administrative resources to attack a United States presidential candidate, including the usage of courts?" he said.

The Russian President's remarks were seemingly aimed at the four criminal indictments against former US President Donald Trump, who is expected to become the Republican presidential candidate for the third consecutive time for a rematch against current President Joe Biden.

Relations between the US and Russia plunged to their lowest since the Cold War after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Putin has repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons if the US or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation sent troops in assistance to Ukraine.

Putin addresses Navalny's death

Addressing Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death for the first time, Putin said his passing had been a "sad event" and confirmed that he had been ready to do a prisoner swap involving the opposition politician. Navalny, one of the fiercest critics of Putin, died in an Arctic penal colony last month and was buried in Moscow.

"Believe it or not, but the person talking to me didn't even finish their sentence when I said: I agree," the President said in response to a question from a journalist about Navalny's death. He added that his one condition was that Navalny wouldn't return to Russia. "It happens. There is nothing you can do about it. It's life," Putin said. 

Putin further said that Navalny-inspired protests had no effect on him during the presidential elections, although he condemned acts of vandalism. "If you don't want to vote or want to put your trust in some candidate that you pick or just not vote if you don't like anyone - that's one thing. But if you want to do dirt on the people who came to vote, to fulfill their civil duty and you spit on their position - that's bad. At least, it's not democratic," he said.

Navalny's death has left the opposition deprived of its most formidable leader, and other major opposition figures are abroad, in jail or dead, thus paving the way for Putin to win without any serious competition. 

Putin on Ukraine, World War III

The Russian President asserted that he would prioritise resolving tasks associated with what he called Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine and would strengthen the Russian military. He said his armed forces were advancing in Ukraine ever day on the battlefield.

“In general the initiative is fully on the side of the Russian army. In some directions, our guys are butchering the enemy. We are advancing every day. Gradually, very delicately. But every day. This is a bit more than active defence. But we all see this anyway," he said during his remarks.

He also said Russia would need to think about who it could talk to about the possibility of peace in Ukraine, suggesting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not an option. Putin further said he is ready for talks on a French proposal for a ceasefire in Ukraine during the Olympic Games but would need to take Russia's interests into account.

In a staunch warning to the West, Putin said, "I think that anything is possible in the modern world. But I've already said this and it is clear to everyone that this (conflict between Russia and NATO) will be just one step away from a full-scale World War Three. I don’t think anybody is interested in this".

(with inputs from Reuters, AP)

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