Chemical weapons experts heading to United Kingdom in Russian Federation spy case

Russians turn out to cast their votes in the presidential elections

Polling at around 70 percent, the 65-year-old former KGB officer is certain to extend his term to 2024 despite a lacklustre campaign and his refusal to participate in televised debates.

While the vote may seem like a repeat of the Putin-dominated 2012 election, this one is particularly charged with anti-Western sentiment.

The mood in Moscow seemed tough as indicated in the official statement. "We said it right away", he said.

With Putin's main challenger Alexei Navalny barred from taking part in the poll for legal reasons, the result of the election is expected to be hugely predictable, with overall turnout remaining the only element of surprise.

This is the first vote that children have also been used in campaigning, with schools holding referendums or parent conferences on election day or making students engage in election-related activities to promote the vote, he said. He spoke on condition that his last name not be used out of concern that his employer - the Moscow city government - would find out.

Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission who was appointed to clean up Russia's electoral system, vowed to respond to complaints about being coerced to vote.

In a national broadcast on TV on Friday, Putin said: "I therefore ask you to come to the polling stations on Sunday, use your right to choose a future for the great Russian Federation that we love".

Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Russia's fourth-largest city, Yekaterinburg, told rhe Associated Press that local officials and state employees have all received orders "from higher up" to make sure the presidential vote turnout is over 60%.

In Moscow, first-time voters were being given free tickets for pop concerts, and health authorities were offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations. Putin had faced a serious opposition movement then but has since boosted his popularity with Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a polling station during the presidential election in Moscow Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a polling station during the presidential election in Moscow Russia

A wave of anti-government protests in the past year also suggests growing fatigue with corruption scandals seeping through the Kremlin and Putin's inner circle of oligarchs.

Voters cast ballots from the Pacific coast to Siberia and Moscow.

Voting will run until polls close at the westernmost point of Russian Federation, the Kaliningrad region on the Baltic Sea, at 1800 GMT on Sunday.

By 7 p.m. Moscow time, authorities said turnout had hit almost 60%.

Putin faces no meaningful opposition in Russian Federation - not least because his chief critic Alexei Navalny has been banned from running.

Authorities also appealed to patriotic feelings by holding the vote on the anniversary of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

He expressed hope that Putin will continue to stand up to the United States and the West and will work on improving living standards at home. But it will take more than action in London to stop Putin.

Mr Navalny accused Ms Sobchak of discrediting the opposition by joining the race.

Nonetheless, Putin is genuinely a popular figure among many Russians, who see him as a strongman who lifted the country out of post-Soviet chaos to stability. She has denied collusion with the Kremlin. She is the only candidate who has openly criticized Putin in the campaign.

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