The Hamilton Spectator

Putin extends rule 6 years in a preordaine­d election

After harshest crackdown since Soviet era, leader to continue for 5th term

- EMMA BURROWS, DASHA LITVINOVA AND JIM HEINTZ

President Vladimir Putin extended his reign over Russia in a landslide election whose outcome was never in doubt, declaring his determinat­ion Monday to advance deeper into Ukraine and dangling new threats against the West.

After the harshest crackdown on dissent since Soviet times, it was clear from the earliest returns that Putin’s nearly quarter-century rule would continue with a fifth term that grants him six more years. Still, Russians heeded a call to protest Putin’s repression and his war in Ukraine by showing up at polling stations at noon Sunday.

With all the precincts counted Monday, election officials said Putin had secured a record number of votes, underlinin­g his total control over the political system. U.S. and other western leaders denounced the election as a sham.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said there was “nothing free or fair” about the election but seemingly resisted calls from Russia’s opposition to not recognize Putin as the winner.

Ahead of the election, Putin’s greatest political foe, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony, anti-war candidates were barred from the ballot and independen­t voices were silenced in a Kremlinbac­ked media blockade. No independen­t monitoring organizati­ons were able to observe the election and analysts said online polling meant the vote was highly susceptibl­e to manipulati­on. Any public criticism of Putin or his war in Ukraine has been stifled.

Putin appeared Monday evening on Red Square in the heart of Moscow at a concert to mark the 10th year since he annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Putin’s three token challenger­s for the presidency appeared on stage beside him and publicly supported him after campaigns in which none of them criticized him.

Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since December 1999. At the end of his fifth term, he would be the longest-serving Russian leader since Catherine the Great, who ruled during the 18th century.

Emboldened by his sweeping victory, Putin said he planned to carve out a buffer zone in Ukraine to protect Russia from cross-border shelling and attacks. Asked if an open clash could erupt between Russia and NATO, Putin responded curtly by saying: “Everything is possible in today’s world.” He added: “It’s clear to everyone that it will put us a step away from full-scale World War III.”

Russian officials said they recruited over 500,000 volunteers for the army last year, but many expect Putin to mobilize more forces to attempt to push deeper into Ukraine. Analysts say that, in the post-election period, Russian authoritie­s could also introduce unpopular measures such as raising taxes.

The Kremlin is now “increasing­ly confident,” because it has “learned just how passive the population is and how effective their own repression is,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow at the Internatio­nal Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Russia’s Central Election Commission said Monday that, with all the precincts counted, Putin got 87 per cent of the vote. Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said that nearly 76 million voters cast their ballots for Putin.

In illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, at least 249 people were detained for refusing to take part in the vote and for criticizin­g Russian authoritie­s according to the Ukrainian Eastern Human Rights Group.

“Voting in the occupied territorie­s took place literally at gunpoint, when members of election commission­s walked from door to door accompanie­d by military men with weapons,” said Pavlo Lysianskyi, head of the group.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed the election and voting in the illegally annexed regions saying “everything Russia does on the occupied territory of Ukraine is a crime.”

Germany also sharply criticized the vote. “Russia, as the chancellor has already said, is now a dictatorsh­ip and is ruled by Vladimir Putin in an authoritar­ian manner,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokespers­on, Christina Hoffmann.

 ?? ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICH­ENKO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a concert Monday marking his presidenti­al election victory and the 10-year anniversar­y of Crimea’s annexation by Russia on Red Square in Moscow.
ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICH­ENKO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a concert Monday marking his presidenti­al election victory and the 10-year anniversar­y of Crimea’s annexation by Russia on Red Square in Moscow.

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