March 19-A day after easily winning another six-year term in office, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for cohesion in domestic politics and constructive dialogue in international relations.
It was a landslide victory for Putin, as expected. He won 75 percent of the vote, securing his place in office through 2024.
While Putin is popular in Russia, and considered to be a strong leader, the election itself was not competitive. Furthermore, observers are complaining about large-scale violations, including ballot-box stuffing and voting that was compelled by employers at state-owned companies.
The main opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, was not able to run due to a financial-crimes conviction he says was made up by the government. The other candidates, considered by most observers as having been Kremlin-approved, did not pose much of a competition for Putin.
Meeting with the other candidates for president on Monday, Putin called for a unity of purpose.
“I think it is crucial for us to unite the efforts of all political parties, civic organizations, the public in the broadest sense of the word, to unite our efforts around a positive agenda, to solve the tasks the country is facing, and to overcome the challenges Russia is up against,” Putin said at the meeting.
Putin outlined the goals of continued economic growth, reduction in poverty and an innovative economy. He said the government is planning to reduce defense spending in 2018 and 2019 while pursuing goals “according to plan.” Cuts are possible, he said, because the government has already paid for new “cutting-edge weapon systems.” Meanwhile, he promised there would not be an arms race.
Putin downplayed recent tension with the West, saying, “We will aim constructive dialogue, without question, and encourage this among our partners.”
In the aftermath of nerve-agent attack against Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter in Salisbury, England, the United Kingdom and Russia have each expelled 23 of the other’s diplomats. Putin denies involvement and has called for a joint investigation.
But that’s not all, relations with the West have turned increasingly worse after Russia annexed Crimea and got involved in a conflict in Ukraine. The European Union and the United States have maintained economic sanctions against the state, key economic sectors, government officials and oligarchs since 2014.
Strategic Partnership with China
Meanwhile, Russia has strengthened its relations with China. Asked during a March 18 press conference with foreign reporters about the bilateral relationship, Putin pointed out the two countries interest in working together on the ambition Silk Road project.
“I will not go into the details of our cooperation but we believe it is perfectly in line with our projects to build the Eurasian Economic Union and the Eurasian partnership in a broader sense,” Putin said. “Our interests here are the same. There are plenty of very practical joint efforts in this area.”
He further pointed to China as a strategic partner. “Russia and China enjoy an unprecedented level of relations. We value them greatly,” he said.
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