Russians vote as Vladimir Putin seeks tighter grip on power

President faces no meaningful opposition

MOSCOW (CNN) - Russians were voting Sunday in a presidential election widely expected to cement President Vladimir Putin's power for another six years.

Polls in the country's far east have already closed in an election involving 107.3 million voters eligible to cast ballots across the 11 time zones of the world's biggest country.

Putin cast his vote in Moscow on Sunday morning. "I am sure of the correctness of the course that I propose for the country," he said, according to state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Russian election officials said turnout was high, with almost 64% of registered voters casting ballots in the Kamchatka region, while in remote Chukotka, which has 33,208 eligible voters, officials reported over 76% turnout, RIA-Novosti reported.

Around 97,000 polling stations have been opened across this vast country, according to the Central Election Commission. Russians have a choice of eight candidates, including the communist Pavel Grudinin, a fruit-farm millionaire and Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin's political mentor.

In fact the biggest threat to the current team at the Kremlin in this election is a low turnout.

The concern is that bored voters, certain that Putin will easily be re-elected, may not bother to vote.

The big push to get the vote out has been aided by a social media campaign.

One video shows newlyweds arriving at a polling station in Tatarstan after tying the knot, the bride in a gorgeous white dress, accompanied by 40 wedding guests. Another tweet shows how to entice voters: put out a smorgasbord overflowing with food -- right in the middle of the polling station.

Meanwhile, Navalny has called for a boycott of the election since he was squeezed out of the race.

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.

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.

Great-grandmother Valentina Ivanova, 76, explained to CNN in Moscow why she was voting.

"It's a holiday... one that's important for me and my family and my country."

"My country is getting stronger -- its always been strong -- and we approve of the direction it's going in. But the most important thing is peace. We're a peaceful people. We would like out grandchildren to have peace and an overall good quality of life. My family are internationalists."

Yugene Yarmakov, 23, who was voting for the first time, said there were too many "joke candidates."

"I don't believe I'm going to influence anything," he told CNN.

Polls in the past have also shown that Putin's popularity rises during times of confrontation with the West, so Russians appear to be shrugging off the current diplomatic crises.

Russia-UK relations plunged into turmoil over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy, his daughter and a police officer on British soil earlier this month. British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was "highly likely" the Kremlin was behind the attack, and both countries have expelled diplomats in an ongoing tit for tat.

Russia has also vowed to retaliate after the United States imposed new sanctions on the country this week over its reported cyberattacks and meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In both cases, Moscow has dismissed the accusations of involvement in the attacks.

But such conflict with international powers is unlikely to hurt Putin at home.

In fact, he may be banking on confrontation with international players this election. His United Russia party helped parliament move the date of the vote to the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine. Annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 redefined Russia's role on the world stage and marked the beginning of new, heightened tensions with Western powers.

Voters in Sevastopol, Crimea were given a medal engraved "With Russia forever," RIA-Novosti reported, to commemorate the 2014 independence referendum, considered illegitimate by Ukraine, the US and its European allies.

Only diplomats vote in Ukraine

In a sign of continued tension between Kiev and Moscow, Ukraine said Sunday it would not allow Russians in the country to vote at Russian consulates, according to a statement from the government information agency, Ukrinform.

The statement said only diplomats would have access to Russian diplomatic institutions on Ukrainian territory during the vote "in order to avoid provocations and possible grave consequences." Russian diplomatic buildings in Ukraine would be heavily guarded by Ukrainian police, it added.

Another Russian Presidential candidate is the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

"These are elections of the supreme ruler not only of Russia, but of the entire Planet Earth," he said after having cast his vote in Moscow.

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