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SEVASTOPOL, Crimea —was busy campaigning for re-election in Crimea, the province he took illegally from Ukraine. With a warm-up act and a crowd acting as the base, Putin is pumping up potential Russia voters — the name of the game this election season.
There’s no question President Putin is going to win Sunday’s election, but precisely because there’s no real contest, plenty of Russians are apathetic, so the Kremlin is working hard to make sure they’re not embarrassed by a low turnout.
Putin’s message on Wednesday was filled with nationalism: Crimea has returned home, he said. To Russia.
He’s talking about when Russian troops in 2014 — wearing uniforms with no insignia, the so-called Little Green Men —from Ukraine. At the time, Putin denied he’d sent in the military. Then when it was all over, he bragged about it.
The U.S. and most countries called the seizure illegal and slapped on sanctions.
But Wednesday, on his whirlwind tour, Putin visited the bridge Russia is building to link Crimea to the Russian mainland. It’s a megaproject that’s wildly popular with Russians who support the land grab.
It’s also a message to the West: Putin doesn’t ever back down — something else he knows Russian voters love about him.
As he said before he left the stage, “I would like to hug you all.”
Putin made no mention of the growing rift with Britain over the poisoing of the Russian exile Sergei Skripal, but the very fact that he held a rally in disputed territory makes a bold statement about Russia’s attitude to international law.
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