Putin triumphs in Russia vote

But elections are marred by claims of widespread fraud

VLADIMIR Putin laid claim to a dramatic victory in Russia’s presidential elections last night despite allegations of vote rigging by his opponents.

With counting mostly complete, Putin was on course to claim between 58 per cent and 65 per cent of the vote last night and gave a tearful address saying that Russia had been “saved” from its enemies.

“I promised you we would win. We have won. Glory to Russia,” he told supporters. “You showed who the Russian people are, the Russian working man, the worker and the engineer. You showed that you are a head higher than any layabout, any old windbag. This was for me the biggest present.”

But Communist Party leader and runner-up Gennady Zyuganov, who was on course to get 17 per cent of the vote, denounced the result. He called it “illegitimate, dishonest and untransparent”.

Reports circulated widely yesterday that the election could have been tainted by “carousel voting” – whereby troupes of “voters” are driven from one polling station to another in order to cast their vote for Putin.

However, polling shows that Putin enjoys widespread support outside Russia’s richer urban centres. But he has also faced street protests by mostly middle-class discontents.

Putin’s re-election as president, a post he previously occupied from 2000-2008, will see him return to the Kremlin after four years as Prime Minister.

Some investors believe his re-election could speed the pace of economic reforms that include huge investment projects and privatisations.

Renaissance Asset Managers’ Takouhi Tchertchian said that “at least” $1 trillion (£631bn) will be ploughed into infrastructure by private investors alongside the government’s promised $1 trillion of investment and mass privatisations.

“These are the minimum numbers. In reality, it’s going to be a lot bigger,” Tchertchian said. She added: “Putin knows he must deliver reform. It’s a make-or-break situation.”

Putin will now serve a six-year term as president. If he wins and serves another term after that, he will be Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin.