Vladimir Putin is likely to stay in power until "the end of his natural life" or until he is overthrown, an anti-corruption campaigner said on Friday as Russians voted in presidential polls.

Bill Browder, whose Hermitage Capital Management firm was one of the largest investors in Russia in the late 1990s to early 2000s, said the election was "a farce from top to bottom".

But he said Putin, who is seeking another six-year term, was weak and that if he continued to repress Russians, the pressure on him would build and likely culminate in an uprising.

"He has nothing to offer people other than death, or prison. That's not a strong leader," Browder, who was expelled from Russia in 2005 after identifying a number of major corruption schemes in companies Hermitage had invested in, told AFP.

"If the people of Russia, without leadership, just on their own, decide enough is enough, then he could end up with a Ceausescu situation," he said, referring to Romania's former communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu.

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He was overthrown in an anti-communist uprising, summarily judged and executed by firing squad in 1989.

Former KGB agent Putin has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999 and is casting the election as a show of loyalty and support for his military assault on Ukraine.

On Thursday he urged Russians to back him in the face of a "difficult period" for the country, in a pre-election message broadcast on state TV.

- Fake election -

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"Putin has killed, imprisoned or exiled all of his opponents," said Browder, who led an international campaign to sanction Russian government officials after the death of his Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in prison in 2009.

"He's put in jail anybody who criticises him, he controls the TVs, he controls the courts, he controls everything.

"And so as a result, you end up in a situation where the whole thing is a farce from top to bottom. It's not an election, it's a total fake."

The investor added that Putin was more comparable to the late Colombian drug boss Pablo Escobar than the former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

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Putin, he said, was more of a mafia boss who used the powers a sovereign state "to achieve all of his criminal aims".

"Stalin was a terrible, murderous dictator, but he did so with various ideological motives," he said. "Putin, every motive he has is a criminal motive."

The financier said he believed Putin went to war in Ukraine to try to "create patriotism" and "nationalistic fervour" but had not expected the conflict to last more than two years.

"This war is draining the Russian economy, it's killing Russian soldiers, and it's not good for him, so the only thing he can do is just repress, repress, repress; threaten, threaten, threaten; kill, kill, kill," Browder said in an interview.

Polling stations in a country spread over 11 time zones opened at 8:00 am on Friday (2000 GMT Thursday) on the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula and will close Sunday at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, wedged between EU members Poland and Lithuania.

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Comments (3)

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Lui
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He isn’t strong. He is a weak pimp, needs draconian punishment to keep the people in line. He has to kill his opponents to stay in power. He is afraid of elections so he let the people vote only for him or some alibi candidates without risking his power. It’s a very weak little old man.

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Communist shit
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Oh well , he can take the russian scum down the drain with him by all means. Its a blessing.

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JOhn
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"Lead until the end of his natural life"?

Doesn't defenistration, poisoning, accidental gun discharge or rope related accidents posed as suicide still constitute the natural end to one's life in Russia?

How about the gruesome murder of tyrant leader by an angry Russia mob? Is that not the natural way an oppressive, murderous Tsar's life always concludes in Russia?

Exciting times ahead for putins evil regime I'm sure. Maybe not the kind of excitement they would prefer though.

The oppressed Russians are going to have a hey day redistributing putin and his Kremlin cronies wealth. Even after russia makes full reparations to Ukraine and pays related allied bills, every Russians quality of life should go up considerably.

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