We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Russian president Vladimir Putin on 14 March. Alamy Stock Photo

Putin poised for fifth term in power as final day of voting in Russian election underway

Kremlin critics have called for those unhappy with the Russian leader to stage mass protests at polling stations.

THE FINAL DAY of voting in a presidential election set to formalise six more years in power for Russian president Vladimir Putin is underway. 

Kremlin critics have called for those unhappy with the Russian leader to stage mass protests at polling stations today.

The three-day vote has already been marred by a surge in Ukrainian bombardment, incursions into Russian territory by pro-Ukrainian sabotage groups and vandalism at polling stations.

The election is taking place against the backdrop of a ruthless crackdown that has stifled independent media and prominent rights groups.

71-year-old Putin has been in power since the last day of 1999 and is set to extend his grip over the country until at least 2030.

If he completes another Kremlin term, he will have stayed in power longer than any Russian leader since Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

He is running without any real opponents, having barred two candidates who opposed the conflict in Ukraine. His three token rivals are from Kremlin-friendly parties, who have refrained from any criticism of him or his invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin has cast the election as an opportunity for Russians to show they are behind the assault on Ukraine, where voting is also being staged in Russian-held areas.

voters-queue-at-a-polling-station-in-moscow-russia-at-noon-local-time-on-sunday-march-17-2024-the-russian-opposition-has-called-on-people-to-head-to-polling-stations-at-noon-on-sunday-in-protest Voters queue at a polling station in Moscow, Russia. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Before his death in an Arctic prison last month, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who galvanised mass anti-Putin rallies, urged Russians to protest today.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has reiterated his call in the run-up to the election and said protesters should show up in large numbers at the same time to overwhelm polling stations.

She called for protesters to spoil ballots by writing “Navalny” on them, or vote for candidates other than Putin.

There were repeated acts of protest in the first days of polling, with a spate of arrests of Russians accused of pouring dye into ballot boxes or arson attacks.

Any public dissent in Russia has been harshly punished since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and there have been repeated warnings from the authorities against election protests.

Russia’s opposition called on people to head to the polls at midday (9am Irish time), in what they hope will be a legal show of strength against Putin.

A Moscow resident in his 20s told AFP he would show up at noon to vote in protest, “just to see young supportive faces around… feel some support around me, and see the light in this dark tunnel.”

The man, who declined to give his name for security reasons, said he hoped this would show the authorities “that there are people in this country against the conflict… against the regime.”

voters-line-up-to-get-their-ballots-during-a-presidential-election-in-the-pacific-port-city-of-vladivostok-east-of-moscow-russia-sunday-march-17-2024-voters-in-russia-are-heading-to-the-polls-fo Voters line up to get their ballots during a presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In a pre-election address on Thursday, Putin said Russia was going through a “difficult period”.

“We need to continue to be united and self-confident,” he said, describing the election as a way for Russians to demonstrate their “patriotic feelings”.

The voting will wrap up in Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost time zone, at 6pm Irish time and an exit poll is expected to be announced shortly after that.

A concert on Red Square is being staged on Monday to mark 10 years since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula – an event that is also expected to serve as a victory celebration for Putin.

Ukraine has repeatedly denounced the elections as illegitimate and a “farce”, and urged Western allies not to recognise the result.

The EU and Nato have stated that the presidential election will not be free or fair because the Kremlin has crushed all opposition.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, as well as more than 50 member states, have slammed Moscow for holding the vote in parts of Ukraine.

Guterres said the “attempted illegal annexation” of those regions has “no validity” under international law.

Ahead of the election, Russian state media have played up recent gains on the front and portrayed the conflict as a fight for survival against attacks from the West.

Moscow has sought to press its advantage on the front line as divisions over Western military support for Ukraine have led to ammunition shortages, although Kyiv says it has managed to stop the Russian advance for now.

With reporting from © AFP 2024

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.