International election monitors say Russia's presidential election was clearly skewed in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Tonino Picula, the head of the short-term monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in a statement one day after the March 4 voting that "there was no real competition" and the "abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt."
International monitors have also called for a thorough investigation of alleged electoral violations.
"This election showed a clear winner with an absolute majority, avoiding a second round," said Martinus Kox, the head of the delegation of Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, echoing the OSCE criticisms. "However, voters' choice was limited, electoral competition lacked fairness, and an impartial referee was missing."
Kox said that "due to increased citizen's awareness and involvement elections were more lively, better managed and more seriously observed, whereas structural improvements in electoral regulation were proposed to parliament – but not yet passed.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has urged Russia to address "shortcomings" identified by international monitors.
"The EU takes note of the preliminary results of this presidential election," Ashton's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijanic, told a briefing in Brussels, said. "You are aware that the OSCE/ODIHR, which is the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have observed the elections. They have just issued their report. They have identified certain shortcomings both in the preparations and the conduct of these elections and, overall, we share their assessment. But as I said, we are looking into this as we speak."
The Russian Central Election Commission has declared Putin the landslide winner of the poll.
Putin had declared victory
within hours of polls closing.
Vladimir Churov, the head of the election commission, said that with some 99 percent of votes counted Putin had won with nearly 64 percent. Churov said the turnout was more than 65 percent of the 110 million eligible voters.
The independent Russian election watchdog Golos says independent reports from its observers of individual polling stations indicate Putin most likely secured just over 50 percent of votes.
Independent monitors and opposition figures say there have been thousands of reports of alleged electoral violations, including reports of ballot-box stuffing and "carousel" voting -- when voters cast ballots repeatedly at different polling stations.
Appearing before an estimated 100,000 supporters in Moscow's Manezh Square late on March 4, Putin said he had "won in honest and fair battle."
Putin is now set to return to the presidency after serving a maximum two consecutive terms from 2000 to 2008, followed by the past four years as prime minister. He is to be inaugurated in May, and his next presidential mandate will be six years.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who finished second in the election, also has denounced the vote as skewed by the authorities in favor of Putin.
Opposition leaders say they expect tens of thousands of people to rally in Moscow later on March 5 to protest the election result.
The protest has been approved by authorities but is expected take place amid heavy security.
A number of leaders from around the world -- including former Soviet states as well as Afghanistan, China, Venezuela, and Syria -- have congratulated Putin on his win
while Western governments have largely focused so far on reports of voting irregularities.
With contributions from RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Kyrgyz, and Tajik Services, as well as Reuters, AP, and AFP reporting