Moscow: Vladimir Putin today said he would address disputes with the West after an election that saw him return to the Kremlin with a record vote share, as Moscow faces increasing isolation. International leaders were slow to congratulate the Russian president after a Sunday election that saw him take almost 77 per cent of the vote, as monitors reported ballot stuffing and other alleged cases of fraud.
The poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain along with fresh sanctions from Washington over allegations of meddling in the US 2016 election have isolated Moscow to an extent not seen since the Cold War. The president, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, on Monday denied he was driving a new arms race with Washington after he unveiled a range of “invincible” nuclear weapons this month.
“From our side, we will do all we can so that the disputes with our (international) partners be resolved by political and diplomatic means,” he said during a meeting with the seven other candidates he resoundingly defeated on Sunday.
“It goes without saying that not everything depends on us — as with love, both sides have to be involved, otherwise there can be no love at all,” he said. Putin said he would focus on “increasing the well-being of the residents of this country” through investments in healthcare, education and infrastructure during his next term. With Putin’s most vocal opponent Alexei Navalny barred from running for legal reasons, the outcome of the weekend election was never in doubt, and most of the suspense lay in how many people would turn out to vote.
The Kremlin pushed for high participation to give greater legitimacy to a fourth term for Putin, who is already Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin. But Navalny called on supporters to boycott the vote and sent out more than 30,000 monitors to voting stations. Navalny’s movement and the non-governmental election monitor Golos reported ballot stuffing, repeat voting and Putin supporters being bussed into polling stations en masse.
Fewer irregularities were reported than in previous years, however. An OSCE observer mission said that although the election was marred by a lack of “genuine competition”, it was generally well conducted. Authorities used both the carrot and the stick to boost engagement in the polls. Selfie competitions, giveaways, food festivals and children’s entertainers were laid on at polling stations to entice voters.
But employees at state and private companies, as well as students, said they had come under other pressure to vote.