Russians went to the polls on Sunday to vote in what was more a referendum on giving President Vladimir V. Putin another six years in office than an actual competitive race. With cold winter temperatures covering the vast, continental country, more than 110 million people were eligible to vote from the distant Kamchatka peninsula in the Far East to the European enclave of Kaliningrad, where the last polls were due to close at 8 p.m. on Sunday. Gone were the Soviet days when there was just one name on the ballot and the winner habitually harvested 99 percent of the vote. The spirit was similar, however, with pictures of Mr. Putin and his campaign slogan, “Strong president, strong Russia,” blanketing the country.
Mr. Putin is popular and expected to win big, the only question being how many voters will participate in a hollow exercise unlikely to bring any significant change. The size of the turnout will be interpreted as the strength Mr. Putin’s mandate.
The government has tried to create a carnival atmosphere with music, food and prizes to convince more people to visit the polls.
…The poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain with a rare nerve agent on March 4 was seen in the West as a confirmation of Mr. Putin’s pugnacious tactics, prompting Britain to kick out 23 Russian diplomats. Russia responded with a tit-for-tat expulsion of 23 British diplomats on the eve of the vote.