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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to take part in a March rally to support his bid in the upcoming presidential election, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. Photo by Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters

In televised address, Putin urges high voter turnout ahead of Russian election

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin has urged Russians to cast ballots in Sunday’s election, which he is certain to win, saying that the vote will shape the country’s future.

Putin said in a televised address Friday that “the will of the people, the will of each Russian citizen will determine the path the country will take.”

The Russian leader, whose approval ratings top 80 percent, is set to easily win another six-year term against seven challengers, but the Kremlin has been concerned about voter apathy and has sought to boost turnout to make Putin’s victory as impressive as possible.

Putin urged Russians to “use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love.” He warned that failure to cast a ballot would mean that “this decisive choice will be made without your opinion taken into account.”

On Friday, the final day of the campaign, the president is set to visit a medical center in St. Petersburg, his home city.

The president has traveled across Russia, promising to raise wages, modernize crumbling health care and education and pour more funds into dilapidated infrastructure.

People walk near a board, which advertises the campaign of Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the upcoming presidential election, in a street in Stavropol, Russia. The inscription on the board reads "March 18, 2018. Strong President. Strong Russia!" Photo by Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters

People walk near a board, which advertises the campaign of Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the upcoming presidential election, in a street in Stavropol, Russia. The inscription on the board reads “March 18, 2018. Strong President. Strong Russia!” Photo by Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters

Ksenia Sobchak, a 36-year-old TV host who has campaigned on a liberal platform and criticized Putin’s policies, announced the creation of a new political party late Thursday.

Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of mostly young supporters in Moscow, Sobchak said the Party of Change that she will lead together with former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov would seek to unite pro-reform forces. “We stand for a broad coalition of democratic forces,” she said.

Some see Sobchak, the daughter of Putin’s one-time patron, as a Kremlin project intended to add a democratic veneer to the vote and help split the ranks of Kremlin critics.

Sobchak has denied collusion with the Kremlin and said she was ready to cooperate with Putin’s main foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from the race because of a criminal conviction widely seen as politically motivated.

“He should understand that we are working for the same thing,” Sobchak said. “And now is not the time to bear personal grudges against me instead of the government.”

Navalny has called for boycotting the vote. In a YouTube video aired late Thursday, he mocked Sobchak and other candidates, describing them as “clowns” manipulated by the Kremlin, and called on his supporters to press for change by taking to the streets.

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