As Putin Cruises, Navalny And Sobchak Spar In Election-Day Standoff

British foreign secretary says Vladimir Putin may have ordered the nerve agent attack on ex-spy

The run-up to Russia's last presidential election in 2012 was marked by protests across the country against Putin's return as head of state after four years as prime minister.

The voters will be eligible to vote in more than 97,000 polling stations in Russian Federation and another 400 in 145 countries around the world. However, under the present law, Putin can not contest for re-election in 2024.

Zyuganov called the result "brilliant" and said Grudinin was a "candidate ideal for the post of prime-minister".

"If Putin wants Russian Federation to build a modern economy, he can't do that in conflict with the West, ' ' said Antonenko".

Last year Navalny called tens of thousands of mainly young Russians out onto the street for protests against Putin.

Tensions between the two nations have now reached Cold War-era levels of frostiness. Russia's economic recovery is sputtering after the worst recession this century.

"Putin now has a feeling of success, he feels the West is splintering", Forbrig said by phone from Berlin.

Candidate Pavel Grudinin, director of the Lenin State Farm, may get seven per cent of the votes, while Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russian Federation, could win six per cent.

Some see Ms Sobchak, the daughter of Mr Putin's one-time patron, as a Kremlin project meant to add a democratic veneer to the vote and help split the ranks of Kremlin critics.

This coupled with the fact opposition leader Alexei Navalny was banned from the elections puts him in a strong position.

"While the incumbent president did not participate in debates or campaigning, extensive and unchallenging news coverage of his official activities continued to provide him with dominant presence in the media", said Marietta Tidei, of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly. "He's not interested in what voters care about".

Putin's bellicose language reached a crescendo before the election in a state-of-the-nation speech when he unveiled new nuclear weapons, saying they could hit nearly any point in the world and evade a US -built missile shield.

Mr Putin was the heavy favourite to retain the Russian presidency.

Meanwhile, his campaign rivals were mostly reduced to shouting at each other in debates that often descended into farce.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, unwittingly summed up the president's election predicament, boasting in January that he's "the absolute leader of the political Olympus, and no one can seriously compete with him".

The massive victory gives Mr Putin new confidence to stand up to the West. The country's economy is being squeezed by sanctions, forcing a growing number of people to live in poverty. "There is no economy other than the gas line".

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 over 10,000 lives. The Bank of Russian Federation has warned that the economy may grow by only about 2 percent per year without major changes, around half the current global average.

Putin has traveled across Russian Federation pledging to raise wages, pour more funds into the country's crumbling health care and education and modernize dilapidated infrastructure.

The big push to get the vote out has been aided by a social media campaign.

Navalny - who called on his supporters to boycott the "fake" vote and sent over 33,000 observers across the country to see how official turnout figures differed from those of monitors - said there had been "unprecedented violations".

But the disputes likely worked in Putin's favor, reinforcing the official contention that the West is infected with "Russophobia" and is determined to undermine Putin and Russian cultural values.

Quizzed about who else might have been behind the attack, the oligarch said: "There is a very small group inside the Kremlin - in our opinion up to 100 people - who are the main beneficiaries of the Putin regime and who knowingly act as a criminal gang".

Yugene Yarmakov, 23, who was voting for the first time, said there were too many "joke candidates".

"I have been thinking about it, and I don't know which is worse".

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