Russia election: Polls open with Putin sure to win

Voters went to the polls in Russia on Friday Three-day presidential election A six-year term extension was confirmed after he quashed opposition from President Vladimir Putin.

A background election takes place Merciless oppression That is Paralyzed independent media And Major rights groups It gave Putin full control of the political system.

It also comes as Moscow War in Ukraine Entering third year. Russia has the advantage on the battlefield, where it is making small, albeit slow, gains. Ukraine, meanwhile, has made Moscow look vulnerable behind the front lines: long-range drone strikes have struck deep into Russia, while high-tech drones have put its Black Sea fleet on the defensive.

Voters cast their ballots Friday through Sunday at polling stations across 11 time zones across the vast country and illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. Russians can also vote online, the first time this option has been used in a presidential race; Officials said more than 200,000 people in Moscow had voted online as soon as voting began.

Election Holds little suspense Putin, 71, is running virtually unchallenged for his fifth term. His political opponents are in prison or in exile abroad, among them the fiercest, Alexei Navalny. Died in a remote Arctic penal colony Last month. The other three candidates on the ballot are low-level politicians from token opposition parties aligned with the Kremlin.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen via video link in a courtroom in Moscow on October 18, 2022. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Workers carry the coffin and portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from a church in Moscow on March 1, 2024.  Voters go to the polls in Russia for a three-day presidential election that is sure to stretch the presidency.  Rule after Vladimir Putin suppressed dissent.  His political opponents are in prison or in exile abroad, the most brutal of whom, Navalny, recently died in a remote Arctic penal colony.  (AP Photo, File)

Workers carry the coffin and portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from a church in Moscow on March 1, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

The audience did not expect the election to be free and fair. Beyond the fact that voters are given little choice, the possibilities for independent monitoring are very limited.

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Only registered candidates or state-backed advisory bodies can appoint observers to polling stations, reducing the possibility of independent monitoring groups. With more than three days of voting at 100,000 polling stations in the country, actual monitoring is difficult anyway.

“Russia's elections as a whole are a sham. The Kremlin controls who's on the ballot. The Kremlin controls how they can campaign. That's not to say they can't control every aspect of the voting and vote-counting process,” said Sam Green, director of democracy resilience at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. said.

Ukraine and the West have condemned Russia for holding the referendum in Ukrainian regions captured and occupied by Moscow's forces.

In many ways, Ukraine is at the center of this election, say political analysts and opposition figures. They say Putin wants to use his all-certain electoral victory as evidence that the war and his handling of it are gaining widespread support. Meanwhile, the opposition hopes to use the vote to show their displeasure with both the war and the Kremlin.

The Kremlin Banned two politicians Trying to run on an anti-war agenda that attracted real support — though not overwhelmingly — would cost voters “any choice on a key issue on Russia's political agenda,” political analyst Abbas Kalyamov said. Putin's speechwriter.

A student of the Maritime State University named after Admiral Gennady Nevelskoy traveled 6418 km from the polling station during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.  (3566 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia go to the polls for a presidential election that looks set to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after curbing discontent.  (AP Photo)

A student leaves a polling station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia on March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

Voters wait to receive their ballots at a polling station during the presidential election 6418 km away in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.  (3566 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia go to the polls for a presidential election that looks set to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after curbing discontent.  (AP Photo)

Voters wait to cast their ballots at a polling station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia on March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

Russia's scattered opposition has urged those unhappy with Putin or the war to show up at the polls at noon on Sunday, the final day of voting. This strategy was endorsed by Navalny shortly before his death.

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“We exist, there are many of us, we are real, living, real people and we need to use Election Day to show that we are against Putin. … What to do next is up to you. You can vote for any candidate other than Putin. You can destroy your ballot,” he said. His widow Yulia Navalnaya said.

It is not clear how well this strategy will work.

In a statement this week, Golos, Russia's leading independent election monitoring group, said the authorities were “doing everything to keep people from paying attention to the fact that elections are taking place.”

The watchdog described the pre-referendum campaign as “practically unnoticeable” and “extremely empty.” In 2000, Golos was established to monitor elections in Russia.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with residents following a visit to the Solnekhniy Dar greenhouse complex outside Stavropol, Russia on March 5, 2024.  Voters head to the polls in Russia for a three-day presidential election.  To extend Putin's rule after suppressing dissent.  (AP, File via Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with residents following a visit to the Solnekhniy Dar greenhouse complex outside Stavropol, Russia on March 5, 2024.

The report said Putin's campaign had remained hidden in the presidential proceedings, while the other candidates were “provably inactive”.

According to Golos, state media devoted less time to the election than in 2018, when Putin was last elected. Instead of encouraging votes to ensure the desired turnout, officials appear to be pressuring voters they can control — for example, Russians working in state-run companies or institutions — to show up at the polls, the group said.

Students of the Maritime State University named after Admiral Gennady Nevelsky cast their ballots at a polling station during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, 6418 km away.  (3566 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Voters in Russia go to the polls for a presidential election that looks set to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after curbing discontent.  (AP Photo)

Students participate in voting at a polling station during the presidential election on March 15, 2024 in Vladivostok, Russia. (AP Photo)

A woman leaves a polling station at the Pacific High Naval School during the presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024.  Voters go to the polls in Russia.  The presidential election is sure to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after quashing dissent.  (AP Photo)

A woman leaves a polling station during the presidential election in Vladivostok, Russia on March 15, 2024. (AP Photo)

The watchdog group has also been mired in repression: its co-chairman, Grigory Melkoniandes, remains in jail awaiting trial on charges widely seen as an attempt to pressure the group ahead of the election.

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“Current elections cannot reflect the true mood of the people,” Kolos said in the statement. “The distance between citizens and decision-making about the fate of the country has become greater than ever.”

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Follow AP's coverage of Russia's election: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-election

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