Erdoğan congratulates Putin on election victory in phone call

Elias Hubbard
March 19, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan congratulated his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call late Monday on Sunday's landslide victory. Observers and individual voters reported widespread violations including ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the claims are unlikely to dilute the power of Russia's longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. Putin has promised to use his new term to beef up Russia's defenses against the West and raise living standards.

"Nobody plans to accelerate an arms race", said Putin. The result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West, Putin loyalists said.

The Russian presidential election came amid escalating Cold War-like tensions, with accusations that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning this month of a former Russian double agent in Britain and that its internet trolls had waged an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 USA presidential election. As a result, relations with the West have hit a post-Cold-War low.

With almost 100 percent of the votes counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC), announced that Putin, who has run Russian Federation as president or prime minister since 1999, had won 76.69 percent of the vote.

Putin's support at the ballot box, accompanied by a heavy turnout at 67 percent, marked his best electoral performance ever.

But the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a rights watchdog, said restrictions on fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, had restricted the scope for political engagement and crimped competition.

Russia's Central Election Commission recognised that there were some irregularities, but was likely to dismiss wider criticism and declare the overall result legitimate. Backed by state TV, the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating around 80 percent, his victory was never in doubt.

With 99.8 percent of the vote counted, the Central Election Commission said Monday that communist Pavel Grudinin came a distant second with 11.9 percent support. His most vocal opponent, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was barred from running. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged. "But this will not lead to any decline in the country's defence capacity", he said during a meeting with other candidates.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first to offer his congratulations to Putin, but Heiko Maas, Germany's new foreign minister, questioned whether there had been fair political competition.

Putin, at a meeting with the opponents he defeated in Sunday's presidential election, said Russian Federation wanted constructive dialogue with its worldwide partners, though he said they would need to reciprocate, and respect Russian Federation.

As the embodiment of Russia's resurgent power on the world stage, Putin commands huge loyalty among Russians.

When asked if he intends to initiate changes in the Russian constitution that could eliminate term limits, Putin answered that he has no such plans "yet".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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