Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Russians to vote in the presidential election on March 18, urging citizens to "use your right to choose the future for our great and beloved Russia."
Putin's appeal, posted in video and text form on the Kremlin website on March 16, echoed patriotic addresses he has issued earlier in the campaign ahead of a vote that appears certain to hand him a new six-year term.
Analysts say he wants a high turnout and a convincing margin of victory to bolster his mandate as he heads into what may be his last term.
"We in Russia have always decided our destiny ourselves, have done things in a way our conscience, our understanding of the truth and justice, and our love to the Motherland directed us. That is in our national character, which is known to the whole world," said Putin, whose vocal defiance of the West has been a factor in his popularity over nearly two decades as president or prime minister.
The election comes as Russia's relations with the West have been driven to a post-Cold War low by disagreements over issues including Russia's aggression in Ukraine, its role in the war in Syria, its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and Western accusations that it was behind the poisoning of former a Russian spy and his daughter with a highly toxic nerve agent in Britain.
Eight candidates are on the ballot in the presidential vote. Putin's popularity, his control over the levers of power, and what critics say have been years of steps to suppress dissent and marginalize opponents virtually ensure his victory.
Candidates are barred from using their official positions to campaign, and Putin did not call on Russians to vote for any particular candidate. He said that "as the current head of state, I consider it important to appeal to you ahead of the election."