Putin Addresses Red Square Crowd After Election Win Blasted By West

webnexttech | Putin Addresses Red Square Crowd After Election Win Blasted By West

President Vladimir Putin hailed the “return” to Russia of annexed Ukrainian territories on Monday at a concert on Red Square after winning an election blasted as illegitimate by Western powers. The ex-spy won over 87 percent of the vote in a three-day ballot which included voting in parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces. Moscow has presented the weekend presidential election as proof that Russians have rallied around Putin more than two years into the Ukraine offensive. Putin’s victory is widely expected to further tighten his grip on Russia, where dissent is no longer tolerated under fast-accelerating repression. In power since the last day of 1999, he is now on course to become the longest-serving Russian leader in more than two centuries. “Hand in hand, we will move forward and this will make us stronger… Long live Russia!” Putin told the crowd attending a pop concert to mark 10 years since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Putin boasted of a new rail link in areas of Ukraine captured by Russian forces, saying those regions had “declared their desire to return to their native family”. He appeared at the concert alongside the three candidates who ran against him after hosting them at a Kremlin meeting in which they all congratulated him. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin’s victory showed Russians were consolidating “around his path”, calling it “an exceptionally perfect result”. All of the 71-year-old’s major opponents are dead, in prison or in exile and voting took place a month after Putin’s main challenger Alexei Navalny died in prison. Authorities had called on Russians to take part in the vote out of patriotic duty. “Vladimir Vladimirovich is the foundation of our country,” said Viktoria, 23, an IT worker at a state company as she headed to the Red Square concert. Elena, a 64-year-old economist, said she was not surprised by the result “because I think that any citizen who respects our country voted for Putin”. Ballot spoilers to be ‘dealt with’ The three-day vote — also held in occupied Ukraine — was marred by spoiled ballots and Ukrainian bombardments. Thousands responded to the opposition’s call to protest the election by forming long queues at polling stations — both inside and outside Russia. Yulia Navalnaya — who has vowed to continue her late husband Alexei’s work — queued with crowds in Berlin Sunday and said she had written his name on her ballot paper. Moscow had warned Russians not to take part in the protests and on Monday dismissed the opposition. “There are many people who… have completely broken away from the motherland,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Yulia Navalnaya, whom you mentioned, belongs to this group of people who lose their roots,” he added. Moscow has regularly blasted the hundreds of thousands of Russians who fled their country in the aftermath of the Ukraine offensive as traitors. Ballots were also spoiled by green dye and there were several incidents of voting booths being set on fire. Putin on Sunday warned that Russians who spoiled their ballots “have to be dealt with” and dismissed opposition protests as having “no effect”. ‘That’s life’ Putin on Sunday also said Navalny’s name for the first time in public — breaking his years-long tradition of never referring to his opponent by name. It was the first time he had commented on Navalny’s death in prison on February 16th. Putin said that he had green-lighted an initiative for a prisoner swap including Navalny for Russians held in Western jails — confirming allegations made by Navalny’s team. “I agreed on one condition: for us to exchange him and for him not to return,” Putin said. He said Navalny died days later. “But this happens. There is nothing that you can do about it. That’s life.” He did not say how Navalny died. Navalny’s team alleges that he was killed on the eve of a prisoner swap. Navalny is the latest Putin opponent to die in mysterious circumstances. West slams vote The Kremlin said Putin held phone calls with his ex-Soviet allies in Central Asia, Belarus and Azerbaijan after the vote. He also received congratulations from countries such as China, North Korea, Venezuela and Myanmar, Russian state media said. But the result was met with scathing statements from Western leaders — in contrast with the previous four elections Putin has won since 2000. “This election has been based on repression and intimidation,” the EU’s foreign minister Josep Borrell said. The UK also slammed the vote as unfair. “Putin removes his political opponents, controls the media, and then crowns himself the winner. This is not democracy,” Britain’s foreign minister David Cameron said in a statement. Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky said Putin was a “dictator” who wanted to “rule forever.” (Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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