Russians’ arrival at election polling stations, spoiled ballots part of peaceful anti-Putin protests


Thousands of people turned up at polling stations across Russia on Sunday to take part in what the anti-Kremlin opposition said was a peaceful but symbolic political protest against the re-election of President Vladimir Putin.

In an action called “Noon against Putin,” Russians who oppose the veteran Kremlin leader went to their local polling stations at midday to either spoil their ballot paper in protest or to vote for one of the three candidates standing against Putin, who is widely expected to win by a landslide.

Others had vowed to scrawl the name of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died last month in an Arctic prison, on their ballot paper.

Navalny’s allies broadcast videos on YouTube of people lining up at different polling stations across Russia at midday who they said were there to peacefully protest.

Navalny had endorsed the “Noon against Putin” plan in a message on social media facilitated by his lawyers before he died. The independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper called the planned action “Navalny’s political testament.”

A police officer checks voter with a metal detector at a polling station in Moscow.
A police officer checks voters outside a polling station in Moscow at noon on Sunday, the third and final day of voting in Russia’s presidential election. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

“There is very little hope, but if you can do something [like this] you should do it. There is nothing left of democracy,” one young woman, who did not give her name and whose face was blurred out by Navalny’s team, said at one polling station.

Another young woman at a different polling station, whose identity had been disguised in the same way, said she had voted for the “least dubious” of the three candidates running against Putin.

A lineup of voters outside a polling station in Moscow.
People wait in line to enter a polling station in Moscow around noon on Sunday. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

A male student voting in Moscow told Navalny’s channel that people like him who disagreed with the current system needed to go on living their lives regardless.

“History has shown that changes occur at the most unexpected of times,” he said.

Despite the protesters — who represent a small fraction of Russia’s 114 million voters — Putin is poised to tighten his grip on power in the election that is certain to deliver him a big victory.

WATCH | Russians vote in election without viable opposition candidates:

Russians vote in election without viable opposition candidates

Millions are voting in Russia and occupied parts of Ukraine in the country’s presidential election. With no significant opposition on the ballot, Vladimir Putin is poised to win a fifth presidential term.

Kremlin claims 80% approval rating for Putin

The Kremlin casts Navalny’s political allies — most of whom are based outside Russia — as dangerous extremists out to destabilize the country on behalf of the West. It says Putin enjoys overwhelming support among ordinary Russians, pointing to opinion polls that put his approval rating above 80 per cent.

With Russia’s vast landmass stretching across 11 time zones, protest voters were scattered rather than concentrated into a single mass, making it hard to estimate how many people turned up for the protest event.

WATCH | What Alexei Navalny’s death means for opposition to Putin

What Navalny’s death means for opposition to Putin

Exiled Belarusian leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was with Alexei Navalny’s wife when she heard the first reports of his death. Tsikhanouskaya spoke to The National’s Ian Hanomansing about the impact of Navalny’s death for the family and the opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The size of the lines at each polling station shown on Navalny’s channel ranged from a few dozen people to what looked like several hundred people.

Reuters journalists saw a slight increase in the flow of voters, especially younger people, at noon at some polling stations in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, with lines of several hundred people. Some said they were protesting, though there were few outward signs to distinguish them from ordinary voters.

Leonid Volkov, an exiled Navalny aide who was attacked with a hammer last week in Vilnius, Lithuania, estimated hundreds of thousands of people had come out to polling stations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and other cities.

Reuters could not independently verify that estimate.

Yulia Navalnaya, centre, widow of the late Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arrives at a rally in Berlin.
Yulia Navalnaya, centre, widow of the late Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arrives at a rally next to the Russian Embassy in Berlin, where voters lined up to cast their ballots on the final day of Russia’s presidential election on Sunday. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

At polling stations at Russian diplomatic missions from Australia and Japan to Armenia, Kazakhstan and Georgia, hundreds of Russians stood in line at noon.

In Berlin, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, showed up at the Russian Embassy to take part in the protest event there, along with Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson. Other Russians who were present clapped and chanted her name.

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