Vladimir Putin won a landslide election victory on Sunday — the fourth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea — extending his presidency by another six years as he easily breezed past a field of minor candidates left by the disqualification of his only credible rival.
If Putin serves to the end of his new fourth term, which expires in 2024, he would become the longest-serving leader of Russia since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of Putin who was considered his strongest potential rival was barred from Sunday's vote following his conviction on fraud charges that are widely viewed as politically motivated.
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, reporting from Moscow says Russia's Election Commission put out a report on Sunday "claiming that their website was hit by a cyberattack overnight and saying the cyberattack originated overseas --in 15 countries overseas. We don't have much more detail than that, and we'll see if the claim goes anywhere."
The English-language Moscow Times writes:
"In a widely-expected result, an exit poll by pollster VTsIOM showed Putin, who has already dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, had won 73.9 percent of the vote. Backed by state TV, the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating around 80 percent, his victory was never in doubt.
Critics alleged that officials had compelled people to come to the polls to ensure that voter boredom at the one-sided contest did not lead to a low turnout."
As The Associated Press noted, Putin's "only real challenge was to run up the tally so high that he could claim an indisputable mandate."
According to the Times:
"Russia's Central Election Commission recognised that there were some irregularities, but were likely to dismiss wider criticism and declare the overall result legitimate.
Putin loyalists said the result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West.
'I think that in the United States and Britain they've understood they cannot influence our elections,' Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament, said on state television. 'Our citizens understand what sort of situation Russian finds itself in today.'"
Putin took over the presidency following the chaotic rule of Boris Yeltsin, who stepped down in 2000. He stepped aside to become prime minister in 2008 to win the presidency again in 2012. The Russian constitution limits a president to two consecutive terms.