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In a popular referendum held on March 16, residents of the Crimea voted to join Russia, and Western governments introduced a series of travel bans and asset freezes against members of Putin’s inner circle.
In a separate move, he granted a pardon to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil conglomerate who had been imprisoned for more than a decade on charges that many outside Russia claimed were politically motivated.
Putin moved to reduce the power of Russia’s unpopular financiers and media tycoons—the so-called “oligarchs”—by closing several media outlets and launching criminal proceedings against numerous leading figures. Nevertheless, Putin joined German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French Pres. Though the fairness of the elections was questioned by international observers and by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the results nonetheless affirmed Putin’s power.