(NEWSnet/AP) – President Vladimir Putin confirmed his control over Russia for six more years on Monday with a predetermined election landslide amid the harshest crackdown on the opposition and free speech since Soviet times.

From the earliest returns, the conclusion everyone expected was clear: Putin would win re-election.

With nearly all the precincts counted Monday, election officials said Putin had secured a record number of votes — an unsurprising development underlining the Russian leader’s total control of the country’s political system.

Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since December 1999, a tenure marked by international military aggression and an increasing intolerance for dissent.

As early results came in, the Russian leader hailed them as an indication of “trust” and “hope” in him — while critics saw them as another reflection of the highly orchestrated nature of the election.

Any public criticism of Putin or his war in Ukraine has been stifled. Independent media have been crippled. His fiercest political foe, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic prison last month, and other critics are either in jail or in exile.

Beyond the fact that voters had virtually no choice, independent monitoring of the election was extremely limited.

Several people were arrested, including in Moscow and St. Petersburg, after they tried to start fires or set off explosives at polling stations while others were detained for throwing green antiseptic or ink into ballot boxes.

Stanislav Andreychuk, co-chair of the Golos independent election watchdog, said Russians were searched when entering polling stations, there were attempts to check filled-out ballots before they were cast, and one report said police demanded a ballot box be opened to remove a ballot.

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