Russian elections: Voting begins in opinion polls that Putin is certain to win

Russia began voting for three days on Friday in A Presidential election This would certainly extend President Vladimir Putin's rule for another six years after he stifled dissent.

At least six cases of vandalism were reported at polling stations, including the throwing of firebombs and several people pouring green liquid into ballot boxes — an apparent reference to the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was attacked in 2017 by an attacker who… Spray green disinfectant in his face.

Voting is taking place until Sunday in polling stations across the 11 time zones of the vast country, in illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, and on the Internet. Putin cast his vote via the Internet, according to the Kremlin.

The elections come against the backdrop of: Ruthless repression which has Disabled independent media And Prominent human rights groups It gave Putin complete control over the political system.

More than 50 countries will go to the polls in 2024

It also comes in Moscow War in Ukraine Entering his third year. Russia has the advantage on the battlefield, where it is making small, if slow, gains. Russian Rocket attack on the coastal city of Odessa Local officials said at least 14 people were killed on Friday.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears via video link to a courtroom in Moscow on October 18, 2022. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Workers carry a coffin and a portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny outside a church in Moscow on March 1, 2024. Voters head to the polls in Russia for a three-day presidential election that is certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after a crackdown on dissent.  His political opponents are either in prison or in exile abroad, and Navalny, the most violent of them, died in a remote penal colony in the Arctic recently.  (AP photo, file)

Workers carry a coffin and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny outside a church in Moscow on March 1, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

Meanwhile, Ukraine has made Moscow look weak behind the front lines with long-range drone strikes deep into Russia and high-tech drone strikes that have put its Black Sea fleet on the defensive.

Russian regions bordering Ukraine have reported a surge in shelling and repeated attacks this week by Ukrainian forces, which Putin on Friday described as an attempt to intimidate residents and derail the vote.

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He pledged at a Security Council meeting that “these enemy strikes have not and will not go unpunished.”

“I am sure that our people, the people of Russia, will respond to this with greater cohesion,” Putin said. “Who did they decide to scare? The Russian people? It never happened and it never will happen.”

By the time polls closed Friday night in Russia's far western Kaliningrad region, more than a third of the country's eligible voters had cast ballots in person and online, according to the Central Election Commission. Online voting, which began on Friday morning, is available around the clock in Moscow and 28 other regions until 8 pm local time on Sunday.

Officials said voting went in an orderly manner, but in St. Petersburg, a woman threw a Molotov cocktail on the roof of a school housing a polling station, local media reported. The deputy head of Russia's Central Election Commission said people poured the green liquid into ballot boxes in five places, including Moscow.

A student from the Maritime State University named after Admiral Gennady Nevelskoy leaves the voting booth at a polling station during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, 6,418 kilometers away.  (3,566 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia head to the polls for a presidential election that is certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after he suppressed dissent.  (AP photo)

A student leaves a voting booth at a polling station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

Voters wait to cast their ballots at a polling station during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, 6,418 kilometers away.  (3,566 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia head to the polls for a presidential election that is certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after he suppressed dissent.  (AP photo)

Voters wait to receive their ballots at a polling station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

News sites also reported via the Telegram messaging channel that a woman in Moscow set fire to a voting center. Such actions are incredibly risky because election interference is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The election It holds a little suspense Since Putin (71 years old) ran for a fifth term almost unchallenged. His political opponents are either in prison or in exile. Navalny is the most violent of them He died in a penal colony in the Arctic Last month. The other three candidates on the ballot are low-profile politicians belonging to symbolic opposition parties that support the Kremlin line.

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Observers do not expect the elections to be free and fair.

European Council President Charles Michel commented sharply on Friday on the pre-scheduled nature of the vote. “I would like to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in the elections that began today. No opposition. No freedom. There is no other choice,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Aside from the few options available to voters, the possibilities for independent monitoring are extremely limited.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with residents after a visit to the Solnechniy Dar greenhouse complex outside Stavropol, Russia, on March 5, 2024. Voters head to the polls in Russia for a three-day presidential election that is certain to go ahead.  Putin's rule extended after he suppressed dissent.  (Mikhail Mitzel, Sputnik, Kremlin rally photo via AP, file)

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with residents after a visit to the Solnechniy Dar greenhouse complex outside Stavropol, Russia, on March 5, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

There were no significant international observers. OSCE observers were not invited, and only registered candidates or state-backed advisory bodies can appoint polling station observers, reducing the prospects for independent oversight bodies. With voting taking place over three days in nearly 100,000 polling stations, any real oversight becomes difficult anyway.

“The elections in Russia as a whole are a sham. The Kremlin controls who is on the ballot. The Kremlin controls how they campaign. We are saying nothing about being able to control all An aspect of voting and the vote counting process.”

Students of the Admiral Gennady Nevelskoy Naval State University attend voting at a polling station during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, 6,418 kilometers away.  (3,566 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia head to the polls for a presidential election that is certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after he suppressed dissent.  (AP photo)

Students attend voting at a polling station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

A woman leaves a voting booth at an assembly station at the Postgraduate Naval School of the Pacific during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia head to the polls A presidential election that is sure to turn... President Vladimir Putin's rule extended after he suppressed dissent.  (AP photo)

A woman leaves a voting booth at a collection station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

Ukraine and the West also condemned Russia for holding the vote in Ukrainian regions that were seized and occupied by Moscow's forces.

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Political analysts and opposition figures say that, in many ways, Ukraine is at the heart of these elections. They say Putin wants to use his emphatic electoral victory as evidence that the war and his handling of it have broad support. Meanwhile, the opposition hopes to use the vote to show its dissatisfaction with the war and the Kremlin.

Two anti-war politicians were banned Political analyst Abbas Galliamov, a former Putin speechwriter, said Putin abandoned the polls after attracting real — though not overwhelming — support, depriving voters of any choice on “the main issue on the Russian political agenda.”

The scattered Russian opposition urged those upset with Putin or the war to come to the polls at noon on Sunday, the last day of voting, in protest. Navalny approved this strategy shortly before his death.

He added: “We need to use Election Day to show that we exist, that there are many of us, that we are real, living, real people, and we are against Putin. … What to do next is up to you. You can vote for any candidate except Putin.” His widow said Yulia Navalnaya: “It could destroy your ballot.”

The extent to which this strategy works remains unclear.

Golos, Russia's popular independent election monitoring group, said in a report this week that authorities are “doing everything so that people do not notice the fact that the elections are happening.”

The organization described the pre-vote campaign as “practically unremarkable” and “the most absurd” since 2000, when Golos was founded and began monitoring elections in Russia.

The report said Putin's election campaign was covered by presidential activities, and the other candidates were “clearly passive.”

State media devoted less time to the election than in 2018, when Putin was last elected, according to Golos. The group said that instead of promoting voting to ensure the required turnout, the authorities appear to be betting on pressuring voters they can control – for example, Russians who work in companies or state-run institutions – to show up at the polls.

The organization itself has been swept up in the crackdown: Its co-chair, Grigory Melkonyants, is in prison awaiting trial on charges widely seen as an attempt to pressure the group ahead of the election.

“The current elections will not be able to reflect the true mood of the people,” Golos said in the report. “The distance between citizens and decision-making about the country’s fate has become greater than ever before.”

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Follow AP's coverage of the Russian elections: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-election

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