MOSCOW — Dmitry Medvedev, the man Vladimir Putin hand-picked to be his successor, scored a crushing victory in Russia's presidential elections Sunday, a result that was long anticipated but that still raises questions about who will run this resurgent global power.
With ballots from 97 percent of the precincts counted, Medvedev had more than 70 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov had 18 percent, it said.
Medvedev's percentage nearly matches Putin's tally in 2004 and infuses Medvedev's victory with the numbers to claim a clear mandate for the next four years.
Medvedev (pronounced MED-veh-dev) is expected to rule in concert with his mentor, an arrangement that could see Putin calling the shots despite his constitutionally subordinate position as Russia's prime minister.
At 42, Medvedev will become the youngest Russian ruler since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. He is expected to heed Putin's advice, continue his assertive course with the West, maintain state control over Russia's mineral riches and freeze out real opposition movements.
"We will increase stability, improve the quality of life and move forward on the path we have chosen," Medvedev said Sunday, appearing alongside Putin at a celebration at the Red Square outside the Kremlin. "We will be able to preserve the course of President Putin."
Putin congratulated his protege, who has served as a first deputy prime minister.
"Such a victory carries a lot of obligations," Putin said. "This victory will serve as a guarantee that the course we have chosen, the successful course we have been following over the past eight years, will be continued."
Putin, who is barred by the constitution from serving three consecutive terms as president, must step down in May.
The election commission reported that about 64 percent of Russia's 109-million voters had cast ballots at 96,000 polling stations, a record for a presidential election.
Medvedev ran against three rivals apparently permitted on the ballot because of their loyalty to the Kremlin line. But two of the candidates — Zyuganov and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky — still alleged violations after the voting ended. Zyuganov said he would dispute the result in court.
Some voters complained of pressure to cast ballots for Medvedev, and critics called the election a cynical stage show to ensure unbroken rule by Putin and his allies.
Sunday's vote came after a tightly controlled campaign and months of political maneuvering by Putin, who appeared determined to keep a strong hand on Russia's reins while maintaining the basic trappings of electoral democracy and leaving the constitution intact.
Medvedev has said he would propose making Putin his prime minister, and Putin has said he would agree. The campaign failed to clarify how the two will share power, and whether Putin's new role is a temporary station to help Medvedev consolidate his position or a mechanism to allow Putin to continue to dominate the country.
At a news conference early today, Medvedev said confidently that Putin would become prime minister and that the division of labor was clearly defined by the constitution, with foreign policy in the hands of the president.
Under the constitution, the president is the most powerful figure in Russia. But Putin, backed by his popularity and a parliament that owes allegiance to him, could be a daunting rival for the new president should the two clash.
Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.