President Vladimir Putin’s rule over Russia will be extended for at least another six years, after he claimed a landslide win Monday in a stage-managed presidential election with no real opposition.

The vote was orchestrated to legitimize the leadership of Putin, 71, after a crackdown on dissent that has left his rivals dead, jailed or in exile as his war in neighboring Ukraine enters its third year. Having led Russia for 24 years already, he will soon match Soviet leader Josef Stalin as the country’s longest-serving modern ruler.

Putin received 87.32% of the vote, Russia’s election commission said early Monday after more than 99% of ballots had been counted. It reported turnout was 74%.

Putin hailed the results as an indication of the country’s “trust” in him.

A service member casts her ballot in Russia’s presidential election in Moscow on Friday.Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP – Getty Images

Russian elections have for years been tainted by mass fraud allegations, but the result this time was never in doubt.

The three other names on the ballot were from parties that have long served the Kremlin’s agenda: Communist Nikolai Kharitonov; leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Leonid Slutsky; and Vladislav Davankov of the New People party, the youngest candidate, whom the Kremlin tried to present as more liberal-leaning.

None represented true opposition to Putin, however, having supported his agenda and barely campaigned.

Former regional legislator Yekaterina Duntsova and politician Boris Nadezhdin tried to get on the ballot with an anti-war message, but were barred from running by authorities.

The country was also able to vote electronically and over a span of three days, as the Kremlin sought to encourage a higher turnout that would allow it to claim a wave of support for Putin and his war.

Since the full-scale invasion that Putin launched in February 2022, the Kremlin has insisted the entire nation has been “consolidated” around the Russian leader and his growing clash with the West. Putin’s approval ratings have remained high, although gauging public opinion is difficult in Russia as people are often too afraid to speak freely.

The Russians who oppose Putin’s war and politics have been ostracized, often forced into exile or persecuted for their views as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent not seen since the Soviet era.

Vladimir Putin Russian Election
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking from his campaign headquarters in Moscow on Monday.Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

Russia’s opposition has been decimated by years of pressure and devastated by the death of its leader, Alexei Navalny, in a remote Arctic prison just weeks before the election, in what his supporters, family and many Western leaders have called a Kremlin-orchestrated murder.

Despite this atmosphere of repression in which mass protests are all but impossible, just before his death Navalny called for people to gather at polling stations on Sunday at noon in a show of dissent.

Navalny’s team shared images of people lining up outside polling stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, the number of people who turned out for the protest across Russia, dubbed “Noon against Putin,” was not clear.

There were no reports of arrests during these protests, but in a separate incident a local election official was detained at a polling station in Moscow for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Navalny’s name on Sunday, according to OVD-info, a Russian civil rights organization.

There were also more fiery displays of anger, with state media reporting multiple incidents of Russians throwing colored dye or Molotov cocktails at ballot boxes and polling stations.

In the absence of real alternatives and reliable polling, the Kremlin was keen to be able to claim a landslide win and high turnout as the true barometer of support for the course that Putin has charted for his country, with the military at its core. On the eve of the election, Putin called on Russians to vote as a “manifestation of patriotic feelings” and said it was “necessary to reaffirm our unity and determination to move forward together.”

On the snowy streets of Moscow ahead of the vote, people were hesitant to talk about the election and there was little sense of a crucial event about to decide anything about the country’s future.

Most told NBC News they were casting their vote for Putin or not at all.

Asked how the Russian economy has fared through the war, Sergei, a lawyer from Siberia, said he had not felt the effect of international sanctions. “I work harder and more diligently, that’s all,” said Sergei, 42. “I have not really felt it. There is definitely something there, inflation. But this is the time we live in.”

The Russian economy’s resilience in the face of the Western sanctions has boosted Putin. Though some prices have soared and the war has added to a labor shortage, official statistics show wages have risen, too, helping to keep the war from the top of many Russians’ everyday thoughts.

Sergei said he was confident that Russia would win the war and emerge better off from it. 

“We will live better,” he said. “As always, we never fall into despair and hope for the best.”

Voters in Russia are heading to the polls for a presidential election that is all but certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after he clamped down on dissent.
A student of the Maritime State University leaves a voting booth in the eastern port city of Vladivostok.AP

The vote came as Russian troops in Ukraine pushed forward against Kyiv’s army, weakened by ammunition and personnel shortages amid faltering Western support. In a symbolic victory for Putin ahead of the vote, Russia took the nearly-ruined Ukrainian town of Avdiivka after months of fighting, underscoring the warnings that reduced backing for Kyiv would strengthen the Kremlin’s hand.

For the first time, four Ukrainian regions that Putin annexed in late 2022 voted in Russia’s presidential election, despite the fact that Moscow’s forces do not fully control the regions and front-line battles raged close by.

For several days ahead of the election and even as Russians voted, Ukrainian drones assailed regions across the country, and pro-Ukrainian armed groups attempted incursions into the border regions of Belgorod and Kursk, as these areas were also shelled from the air. Putin vowed revenge for what he said was a “criminal” effort “to disrupt the voting process and intimidate the people.”

Share.

Leave A Reply

© 2024 Time Bulletin. All Rights Reserved.