Exit polls suggest Russian President Vladimir Putin easily wins re-election

Putin easily wins another six-year term firms grip on Russia

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

Millions of ethnic Russians live in Ukraine but the number of registered Russian voters in Ukraine is unclear.

Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, says local officials and state employees have all received orders "from higher up" to make sure the presidential vote turnout is more than 60 percent.

The doctor, who gave her name only as Yekaterina because of fears about repercussions, said she and her co-workers were told to fill out forms detailing not only where they would cast their ballots, but also told to give the names and details of two "allies" whom they promise to persuade to go vote.

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.

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.

Video recordings from polling stations showed irregularities in a number of towns and cities across Russian Federation. A man accused of tossing multiple ballots into a box in the far eastern town of Artyom was arrested.

Security forces are surrounding Russian facilities in Ukraine amid anger over the Ukrainian government's refusal to allow ordinary Russians to vote for president.

Western sanctions on Russia imposed over Crimea and Moscow's backing of a pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine remain in place and have damaged the Russian economy, which only rebounded past year after a prolonged downturn. He hailed those who voted for him as a "big national team", adding that "we are bound for success".

Polls show that most Russians view the takeover of the Black Sea peninsula as a major achievement despite subsequent Western sanctions.

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. "Who else?" asked Putin supporter Andrei Borisov, 70, a retired engineer in Moscow. Putin has promised to use his new term to beef up Russia's defenses against the West and to raise living standards.

Putin, speaking from a stage just off Moscow's Red Square in front of a cheering audience, said the election result was a recognition of what had been achieved in the past few years, despite hard conditions. "Sobchak is lying as well, that is why the people do not vote for her", he said, referring to Ksenia Sobchak, who was projected to win 2.5% of the vote. In 2008 he was replaced by Dmitry Medvedev, who named him prime minister, and then Putin was again elected president in 2012.

As U.S. authorities investigate alleged Russian interference in the country's 2016 presidential election, Moscow has warned of possible U.S. meddling in the Russian vote.

The Central Election Commission also claimed it had been the target of a hacking attempt from 15 unidentified nations that was deterred by authorities.

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 United States and its European allies. Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

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