Vladimir Putin has thanked his supporters for returning him to the Kremlin as president. The 59-year-old claimed victory as exit polls and official prelimary figures gave him a commanding lead. With nearly half of all votes counted, official results credit him with 64 percent of the vote. If this score is confirmed, he will serve a third six-year term.
It was just before 20.00 CET in the bitter cold of central Moscow when he appeared before tens of thousands of his supporters.
“We won an open and honest fight,” he told the victory rally as tears rolled down his cheeks.
With the ecstatic crowd chanting his name Putin warned against people who wanted to “destroy Russia’s statehood and usurp power”.
“We will work hard and in good faith. We will be successful. We won. Glory to Russia!” he said before he headed off with the outgoing President Dimitry Medvedev by his side.
Earlier Stanislav Govorukhin, Putin’s campaign chief reacted to accusations of fraud in the polls by saying, “This is the cleanest election in Russia’s entire history. The violations our rivals and the opponents of our president will now speak of are laughable.”
Golos, a long-established non-government organisation which monitors elections in Russia, told the country’s Interfax news agency that electoral violations compare to those seen at the 2008 election.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Putin’s nearest rival, said his party would not recognise the official results of the election, calling it “illegitimate, dishonest and untransparent.”
The opposition is set stage protests on Monday. The Moscow Times reported one blogger, Alexei Navalny as saying. “We have a right to assemble and it’s a citizen’s duty to come out and say that we’re not happy with what’s happened.”
The official result of the presidential election is expected on Monday.