Vladimir Putin retains grip on Russia, exit poll shows

UK will either have to offer facts on ‘Russian traces’ in Skripal poisoning or apologize – Kremlin

Russians were voting Sunday in a presidential election widely expected to cement President Vladimir Putin's rule for another six years.

Russian Federation is holding a presidential election today and Putin is expected to win in dominant fashion. Health authorities were also offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations in exchange for voting.

Navalny, who is overseeing a campaign for a vote boycott and sent over 33,000 observers across the country with manual counters to see how official turnout figures differ from those of monitors, said there had been "unprecedented violations".

Election monitors are reporting irregularities at voting stations across Russian Federation in a presidential election whose only open question is how many people cast ballots. They suspended the chief of a polling station near Moscow where a ballot stuffing incident was reported and sealed the ballot box.

A March 9 survey by state-run pollster VTsIOM gave Putin, who was first elected president in 2000, support of 69 per cent.

The only real headache for Putin's campaign was the possibility many voters, including Putin supporters, would not bother to come to the polls because they felt the outcome was already a foregone conclusion.

Casting his ballot in Moscow, Putin said he would be pleased with any result giving him the right to continue as president.

"I am sure of the correctness of the course that I propose for the country", he said.

Putin declared victory in front of thousands of people gathered in below-freezing temperatures at Moscow's Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin, calling for unity in the country.

"I voted for our liberator, Putin", said Alexander Kiryukhin, a 79-year-old in the city of Simferopol, Crimea.

"After he brought Crimea back, he became a hero to me".

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Ukraine is protesting voting in Crimea, annexed by Russian Federation from Ukraine four years ago.

Putin's main challenges in the vote were to obtain a huge margin of victory in order to claim an indisputable mandate. Only Russian diplomats were allowed to access official Russian premises.

"We would call this the "shuttle bus election", Zhdanov told a briefing.

Putin's previous Kremlin term was marked by a crackdown on the opposition after huge protests, the Ukraine conflict, military intervention in Syria and the introduction of Western sanctions that contributed to a fall in living standards.

Putin's victory will extend his total time in office to almost a quarter of a century, until 2024, by which time he will be 71.

The Communist Party's Pavel Grudinin was a distant second with 11.2% of the vote, according to the exit poll conducted by the state-owned Russia Public Opinion Research Center.

"I will not go to vote".

"By doing this we hope to attract voters to the polling stations and we think we can increase turnout", said Nikolai Kretsu, chairman of the consumer market committee in the regional administration.

"And the rest of the candidates are clowns", interjected his wife Anna, 35.

Although Putin has six years to consider a possible successor, uncertainty about his long-term future is a potential source of instability in a fractious ruling elite that only he can keep in check. Putin's opponents warned of election and ballot fraud, but that didn't stop Putin from beating all seven of his challengers in the election.

First-time voters were promised concert tickets at some other polling stations in Moscow, according to the Associated Press, and cities in Siberia are giving away Apple Watches, cars and GoPro cameras as part of similar publicity campaigns, Radio Free Europe reported.

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