Russian voters heed Navalny’s call to protest against Putin’s permanent rule

MOSCOW — On the final day of a presidential election with only one possible outcome, Russians heeded a call from opposition leaders and lined up at noon Sunday to vote against the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin. Alexei Navalnywho had previously urged action at Noon died suddenly in prison last month.

The “noon against Putin” protests, with voters queuing outside polling stations in major cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk and Novosibirsk, were a dramatic – albeit In vain – a show of unity and dissent aimed at counteracting the Kremlin’s opposition. Key message: Putin is a legitimate president with broad support.

On March 17, the last day of the presidential election, Russian voters held a “Noon Against Putin” protest outside polling stations. (Video: Naomi Schanen/The Washington Post)

Many polling stations in Moscow were dead silent on Sunday morning, but by 12pm sharp lines were forming – despite a deluge of text messages from authorities warning people not to engage in “extremist” actions and in the face of Severe crackdown on dissent since 2022 invasion of Ukrainewhich has resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Navalny long committed to free and fair elections in Russia, but blocked from taking part run for president In 2018, he urged Russians to vote against Putin at noon on Sunday. It turned out to be Navalny’s last political act before his death. his widow, Yulia NavalnayaAccusing Putin of ordering his killing, many Western leaders said they hold Putin accountable. The Kremlin denies the accusations.

Many voters also posted photos of their sabotaged ballots with protest slogans such as “Navalny is my president,” “No to war, no to Putin” and “Putin is a murderer.”

Voting begins on Friday and will take place over three days, which some critics say will provide more opportunities for vote manipulation and other fraud.Voting also took place in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops, with reports that election teams were accompanied by soldiers forcing people to vote At gunpoint. Voters in Russia’s 27 regions and two in occupied Ukraine also have access to a widely criticized opaque online voting system that cannot verify votes or prevent tampering.

But the three days of voting also give voters ample opportunity to head to the polls at a time of their choosing, making Sunday’s sudden midday crowds no accident.

At least 65 people were detained at polling stations in 16 Russian cities on Sunday, according to legal rights group OVD-Info. Among them was a Moscow couple who was arrested because the husband was wearing a scarf with the name “Orwell” written on it, a reference to George Orwell, whose dystopian novel “1984” about a repressive totalitarian state.

Chaotic scenes broke out at polling stations across Russia on March 15 as Russia voted to extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule. (Video: Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

In addition to Putin, three other candidates are on the ballot, all essentially Kremlin-friendly low-profile figures, in a highly managed election designed to provide a semblance of legitimacy but pose no serious threaten. Two anti-war candidates, Boris Nadezhdin and Ekaterina Dentsova, may become flashpoints for anti-war sentiment, Prohibited From running.

At 12:30 noon, at a polling station next to the Polenka subway station in central Moscow, dozens of people, mainly Muscovites in their 20s and 30s, lined up throughout the block. A police car and two patrol cars circled the area, and several police officers and security guards guarded the entrance to the polling station.

“We came here to vote against Putin,” said 21-year-old Elisabeth. “We will make three crosses to show that we support everyone but him. To be honest, everyone else is better than him.”

The Post is not fully identifying her or other voters interviewed for this article because of the potential for serious consequences from Russian authorities, including criminal prosecution.

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Elizabeth’s mother Marina added: “He stayed in the same place for too long.”

In Belgorod, Russia’s worst-hit city by war, Putin remains strong

The midday demonstration against Putin was the third sign of recent long lines of protest or political dissent in Russia.

In January, Citizen was established Long queue Sign the petition needed by anti-war candidate Nadezhdin to secure a spot on the ballot. He was later banned by authorities citing signature violations.

Thousands of people lined up to attend Navalny’s funeral this month and spent the following days laying flowers and leaving messages at his grave.

The protests are largely symbolic amid a climate of political fear in Russia, where authorities are expected to maintain tight control over the coming months amid a war that has taken a heavy toll on Russian lives.

Still, signs of public anger are clear.Some frustrated Russians didn’t even wait until Sunday’s protests; expressed their anger Setting fire to polling stations or ballots or pouring liquid into ballot boxes as soon as voting begins on Friday.

The midday anti-Putin protest was not only a bid to denounce an election widely condemned as neither free nor fair, but also to show support for fractured and often demoralized critics of Putin and the war, many of whom now live in exile. .

Navalny’s team live-streamed the day’s protests on his YouTube channel. One of the anchors is Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s longtime senior political adviser. recently attacked Assailants attacked him with a hammer outside his home in Vilnius, Lithuania. Volkov appeared on the broadcast with his arm in a sling.

Two friends, 17-year-old Alina and 19-year-old Mariana, came to the Polenka polling station to protest against Putin.

Arena said the protests had brought hope that “a civilized and democratic Russia is possible.”

“We come here not to feel alone,” Alina said. “I wanted to take my stand in a safe and legal way because there are very few opportunities to do so anymore.” She added: “I think this action was successful because it gave a feeling of strength and power. People would at least It’s rewarding to see the lines and hear about it.”

Mariana said: “We want to have a peaceful protest against the current power to show that we do not support it and will not support it.”

Nicolai, 28, who was at the same polling station, said he was surprised by the high turnout, although some other protesters said they had expected more people to turn out.

“I am here today to express my position and do my part to show that there is still political life in this country and that there are different opinions,” Nicola said. “It is important to show that people are not alone and that this This action remains supported.”

Putin’s vote in occupied Ukraine election forced at gunpoint

It was difficult to stage any kind of protest in wartime Russia. Authorities have been quick to break up even small street gatherings and have ruthlessly cracked down on activists and opposition groups. Some citizens were arrested for laying flowers at the Navalny monument, and some were detained for standing alone holding up white paper.

Russian courts are one of the regime’s main instruments of control, handing out long prison sentences to those for trivial acts, such as social media retweets or replacing supermarket price tags with messages about the war.

The midday anti-Putin protests were particularly notable inside the Russian embassy in Ukraine, where large numbers of Russians fled after the invasion. These include Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, China, Portugal, the United Kingdom, etc.

It was impossible to estimate how many people voted in Russia and around the world, but photos and videos showed hundreds of people lining up at many polling stations.

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Even pro-Kremlin analyst Sergey Markov, who often echoes Kremlin talking points, acknowledged that the protest was “brilliant from a political-technical point of view.”

He said the scope was very wide, the slogans were loud and all the opposition joined.

“Pretending your enemy is weak is a sign of weakness on your part,” he said. “The opponent is strong and smart and can make powerful moves.”

Navalnaya and other prominent opposition leaders appeared at a protest outside the embassy in Berlin, where hundreds of people queued for more than an hour to vote.

“People in the Kremlin don’t understand how ridiculous and stupid they look,” said Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Yukos oil tycoon who was imprisoned in Russia for 10 years and now lives in exile. to the crowd in Berlin. “We are against Putin, we are not the fringes, we are the majority. Freedom for Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!”

In between speeches, people chanted “Russia without Putin,” and some members of the Russian opposition held a concert in front of the embassy.

Stanislav Andreyshuk, co-chairman of Golos, an independent election watchdog declared a foreign agent by Russian authorities, said there had been numerous reports of apparent ballot stuffing, with bundles of ballot papers hidden in official mailboxes. vote. He said there were also signs of abnormalities in the voting dates announced by the Central Election Commission.

As of Sunday afternoon, Golos had mapped more than 1,400 potential breach reports. The group’s co-chairman, Grigory Melkonyants, has been detained pending trial.

In a report to Goros, a state employee in Chechnya, southern Russia, complained that he and others were bussed from one polling station to another to vote multiple times. The employee said he voted seven times in the first two days.

Since taking power on December 31, 1999, Putin has continued to destroy Russia’s fledgling democracy, restricting rights and suppressing dissent. His main political opponents were imprisoned, killed or forced to flee the countrywhile protesters risk lengthy prison sentences for criticizing the war or Putin.

Why does Putin always win? What you need to know about Russia’s sham election.

Putin has swapped jobs with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev since 2008, while retaining the country’s highest political authority and repeatedly finding ways to break term limits to stay in power. Four years later, they swapped again. In 2020, Putin engineered constitutional reforms that would allow him to remain in power until 2036. The term he claimed this weekend to win would last until 2030.

Unlike Ukraine, which elected five presidents under Putin, Russian elections offer no democratic choice. Critics say the Kremlin prevented genuine opposition candidates from taking part in the vote, controlled media coverage and falsified the results.

Independent Russian media, such as Dozhd TV, which was shut down by Russian authorities and now operates in Amsterdam, described this week’s vote as a “so-called election.”

According to numerous reports including the independent Russian media outlet Faridaily, journalist Farida Rustamova’s Telegram channel, most civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises were ordered by their managers to vote on Friday and strongly discouraged They don’t want to vote on Sunday. She said she received hundreds of reports from government employees.

Arena said that in Russia’s tightly controlled society, even just seeing other protesters taking part in a midday event against Putin can feel empowering.

“I love the atmosphere here,” she says, “because I feel strong and surrounded by like-minded people, which is rare these days. Maybe today I’ll even make new friends with people who think the same way I do The same people.”

Her friend Marianna expressed the same optimism, but said she was also realistic about the slim hope for change.

“I think today’s protest was successful because it gave people a little boost. It supported people mentally,” she said. “But it certainly doesn’t influence the authorities in any way.”

Dixon reported from Riga, Latvia. Mary Ilyushina in Berlin and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga contributed to this report.

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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