Large turnout at Russian polling stations as citizens protest against Putin’s indefinite rule

Large turnout at Russian polling stations as citizens protest against Putin’s indefinite rule

MOSCOW — On the final day of a presidential election with only one possible result, Russians protested Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian hold on power by forming long lines to vote against him at noon Sunday — answering the call of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny who had urged the midday action before dying suddenly in prison last month.

The “Noon Against Putin” protest, with voters forming queues outside polling stations in major cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, was a striking — if futile — display of solidarity and dissent designed to counteract the Kremlin’s main message — that Putin is a legitimate president commanding massive support.

Many polling stations in Moscow were deathly quiet on Sunday morning, but long lines appeared at exactly 12 p.m. — despite authorities sending mass text messages warning people against participating in “extremist” actions and in the face of severe repression of dissent since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Navalny, who had long crusaded for free and fair elections in Russia and was blocked from running for president in 2018, had urged Russians to vote against Putin at noon Sunday. It turned out to be Navalny’s final political act before his death. His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has accused Putin of ordering his killing, and many Western leaders have said they hold Putin responsible. The Kremlin rejects the allegations.

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

Independent Russian media, such as Dozhd television, which was shuttered by Russian authorities and now operates from Amsterdam, described the balloting as a “so-called election.”

Since taking power on Dec. 31, 1999, Putin steadily destroyed Russia’s fledgling democracy, curbed rights and crushed dissent. His main political rivals have been jailed, killed or forced to flee the country, while protesters risk long prison terms for criticizing the war or Putin.

Putin has repeatedly found ways to defy term limits to stay in power, starting in 2008 when he swapped jobs with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev while remaining the country’s supreme political authority. Four years later, they swapped again. In 2020, Putin engineered constitutional changes that would allow him stay in power until 2036. The term he will claim to win this weekend runs through 2030.

Unlike in Ukraine, which has had five presidents elected during Putin’s time in power, the Russian election offers no democratic choice. The Kremlin blocks genuine opposition candidates from the ballot, controls media coverage and, critics allege, falsifies results. Two antiwar candidates, Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova were both barred on technicalities from running this year.

Dixon reported from Riga, Latvia. Natalia Abbakumova in Riga contributed to this report.

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