Vladimir Putin claims victory with rivals trounced in Russian election

A woman exits a polling booth as she prepares to cast her ballot in the presidential election at the Lenin state farm outside Moscow Sunday

Putin eyes fourth term in polls as opposition cries foul

Vladimir Putin has unsurprisingly won Russia's presidential election, gaining at least 73.9% of the vote, exit polls say.

With voting closed on Sunday night, exit polls showed that Putin had squeaked to victory with 74 percent of the vote, barely surpassing his closest rivals, communist Pavel Grudinin (11.2 percent), ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (6.7 percent), and four other also-rans. By 7 p.m. Moscow time, authorities said turnout had hit almost 60 per cent.

Critics have accused Ms Sobchak of helping Putin create a semblance of competition in the vote he is set to easily win. Britain and Russian Federation last week announced diplomat expulsions over the spy case and the United States issued new sanctions.

He then led the enthusiastic crowd to chant "Russia!"

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As US authorities investigate alleged Russian hacking and other interference in President Donald Trump's 2016 election, Russian authorities claimed that foreign powers are seeking to interfere in Sunday's vote. But the disputes likely worked in Putin's favor, reinforcing the official contention that the West is infected with "Russophobia" and is determined to undermine Putin and Russian cultural values.

Vladimir Putin will lead Russian Federation for another six years, after securing an expected victory in the presidential election.

Casting his ballot in Moscow, Putin was confident of victory, saying he would consider any percentage of votes a success. The military campaign in Syria is clearly aimed at strengthening Russia's foothold in the Middle East and Russian Federation eagerly eyes possible reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as a lucrative economic opportunity.

At home, Mr Putin will be faced with how to groom a successor or devise a strategy to circumvent term limits, how to drive diversification in an economy still highly dependent on oil and gas and how to improve medical care and social services in Russian regions far removed from the cosmopolitan glitter of Moscow.

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Navalny - who called on his supporters to boycott the "fake" vote and sent over 33,000 observers across the country to see how official turnout figures differed from those of monitors - said there had been "unprecedented violations".

"The programme that I propose for the country is the right one", he declared.

Most people who spoke to AFP said they voted for Putin, praising him for restoring stability and national pride after the humiliating collapse of the USSR.

One election commission worker in the republic of Dagestan, which traditionally registers extremely high official turnout figures, told AFP around 50 men entered the station where he was working and physically assaulted an observer before stuffing a ballot box.

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Despite the damage done to the Russian economy by Western sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, growth has returned to a solid 2% or so, muting potential discontent.

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