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Re-elected by a landslide, Putin projects unchallenged power

It was a surprise to no one: Russian President Vladimir Putin won another six-year term in a landslide election over the weekend. His main challenger, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from running, because of what he says are politically motivated corruption charges. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A White House spokesman said today that the Trump administration wasn't surprised by the outcome of yesterday's Russian presidential election, which renewed Vladimir Putin's rule for six more years.

    That spokesman said no congratulatory phone call has been scheduled between Putin and President Trump.

    As John Yang reports, the Russian leader enjoys enormous support at home, based in part on his confrontations abroad with the West.

  • John Yang:

    In a surprise to no one, Vladimir Putin claimed a landslide victory Sunday night at a rally just outside the Kremlin walls.

  • President Vladimir Putin (through interpreter):

    We will think about the future of our great motherland, about the future of our children, and by doing so, we are surely destined for success. Yes?

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    With nearly 77 percent of the vote, the 65-year-old Putin's reelection to a fourth term makes the former KGB officer Russia's longest-serving leader since dictator Joseph Stalin.

    Putin, who's said that political opposition threatens to de-stabilize Russia, called for national unity.

  • President Vladimir Putin (through interpreter):

    We need to make a breakthrough. While we do this, different political powers shouldn't be run by some group interests, not by clan interests, but national interests.

  • John Yang:

    Many Russians celebrated Putin's win, 13 points higher than his 2012 victory.

  • Oleg Shevchuk (through interpreter):

    People confirmed that they trust the president and his policies.

  • John Yang:

    Russian election authorities are investigating a variety of reported violations, including employers pressuring workers to vote, and, as seen in this security camera footage, widespread ballot stuffing in at least five districts.

    But even Russians who didn't support Putin said that his victory was never in doubt.

  • Svetlana Bukhankova (through interpreter):

    There was no one else to vote for. I think it was all predictable.

  • John Yang:

    International election observers agreed.

  • Michael Georg Link:

    A choice — or choice without a real competition, as we have seen in this election, unfortunately is not a real choice.

  • John Yang:

    Putin's main challenger, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from running, because of what he says are politically motivated corruption charges. Navalny, who called for a national boycott, applauded those Russians who stayed home from the polls.

  • Alexei Navalny (through interpreter):

    For the first time, we could unite a large number of people who, with full consciousness, decided not to take part in this disgusting game.

  • John Yang:

    Today, opposition groups rallied in solidarity.

  • Arkady Ostrovsky:

    I wouldn't call an election at all, or it's a particular election where it's designed not to have a choice.

  • John Yang:

    Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia editor for The Economist, says Navalny was excluded to give Putin the landslide victory he wanted.

  • Arkady Ostrovsky:

    The process was set up in a way to exclude any competition, and so that Vladimir Putin could establish himself as a sort of a national unchallenged national leader with no alternatives or other candidates. Well, you know, it was — in other words, it was a performance. And people who turned up at the polling stations also know that this is a performance.

  • John Yang:

    Ostrovsky says Putin's broad popularity stems largely from his confrontation with the West. That includes ongoing Russian military intervention in Ukraine, and in Syria, where it's helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad prosecute a brutal civil war.

  • Arkady Ostrovsky:

    I think if anything, we're going to see some escalation, because the system depends on this escalation. The system, in a way, his legitimacy, his popularity depend on this image of Russia being a besieged fortress under attack.

  • John Yang:

    Meantime, Britain, France, Germany and the United States are blaming Russia for a chemical weapons attack on a former double agent in Britain. Yesterday, Putin called the accusations nonsense.

    And last week, the Trump administration slapped new sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for alleged Russian election meddling in 2016, and launching cyber-attacks against American energy grids and infrastructure. Ostrovsky says Putin is undeterred.

  • Arkady Ostrovsky:

    He needs to create conflicts to have this backlash from the Western powers, which then in turn allow him to justify himself as the defender of Russian national interests.

  • John Yang:

    Putin sought to assure Russians and international watchers that he's more statesman than instigator.

  • President Vladimir Putin (through interpreter):

    We plan to build relations with all the countries in the world in a way that is constructive. We will aim for and of course our partners towards constructive dialogue.

  • John Yang:

    Russia's current constitution bars Putin from seeking a third consecutive term in 2024. But asked if he planned to change the Constitution, Putin said he was considering it.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm John Yang.

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