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Putin during his meeting with the media at his campaign headquarters in Moscow on March 18, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Moscow: The Kremlin hailed President Vladimir Putin’s election win as “exceptional” on Monday, after the ex-spy won over 87 per cent of the vote in a three-day ballot blasted as illegitimate by Western powers.

Moscow has presented the weekend presidential election as proof that Russians have rallied around Putin more than two years into the Ukraine offensive.

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Putin extended his reign declaring his determination to advance deeper into Ukraine and dangling new threats against the West.

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 in power.

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With all the precincts counted on Monday, election officials said Putin had secured a record number of votes.

Emboldened by his sweeping victory, Putin announced an intention 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,” adding: “it’s clear to everyone that it will put us a step away from full-scale World War III.”

Highest ever result
The outcome means Putin, 71, is set to embark on a new six-year term that will see him overtake Josef Stalin and become Russia’s longest-serving leader for more than 200 years if he completes it.
Putin won 87.8% of the vote, the highest ever result in Russia’s post-Soviet history, according to an exit poll by pollster the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM).
The Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VCIOM) put Putin on 87%. First official results indicated the polls were accurate.
Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said that nearly 76 million voters cast their ballots for Putin, his highest vote tally ever.
Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since December 1999.
At the end of his fifth term, Putin would be the longest-serving Russian leader since Catherine the Great, who ruled during the 18th century.

Russian officials said they recruited over 500,000 volunteers last year, but many expect Putin to order a new sweeping round of mobilization to further beef up his forces for a push deeper into Ukraine.

As early results came in, Putin hailed them as an indication of “trust” and “hope” in him — while critics saw them as another reflection of the preordained nature of the election.

Putin’s allies, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, quickly congratulated him — as did some Central and South American leaders and presidents of nations that have historic and close current ties to Russia, such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Some people told the AP that they were happy to vote for Putin.

Dmitry Sergienko, who cast his ballot in Moscow, said, “I am happy with everything and want everything to continue as it is now.”

Voting took place over three days at polling stations across the vast country, in annexed regions of Ukraine and online.

Buffer zone

A senior Ukrainian official said on Monday Putin’s idea of creating a buffer zone inside Ukrainian territory was a clear indication that Moscow planned to escalate its war.

But residents of Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv, less than 20 miles from the Russian border, were defiant despite the threat.

Putin raised the possibility of setting up a buffer zone during a speech after winning re-election on Sunday, a move the Kremlin said would be the only way to protect Russia from Ukrainian attacks.

“This is ... a direct manifest statement that the war will only escalate,” presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a written statement.

“All this is direct evidence that the Russian Federation is not ready to live in modern social and political relations, taking into account the absolute sovereign rights of other countries,” he said.

Russia has been bombarding Kharkiv and the surrounding region with missiles and drones almost every day in recent months.