Vladimir Putin claims landslide Russian election victory

Author: Editors Desk Source: The Guardian
March 17, 2024 at 22:59
Putin claims landslide victory and fifth term in Russian elections – video
Putin claims landslide victory and fifth term in Russian elections – video
Vladimir Putin claims landslide Russian election victory Russian president uses victory speech to say war in Ukraine and strengthening military will be his main tasks

Vladimir Putin has claimed a landslide victory in Russia’s presidential vote, as thousands in the country and around the world protested against his deepening dictatorship, the war in Ukraine and a stage-managed election that could have only one winner.

In a vote denounced by the United States as “obviously not free nor fair”, Putin won 87% of the vote, according to exit polling published by the state-run Russian Public Opinion Research Center and the Public Opinion Foundation.

In a speech at his campaign headquarters on Sunday evening, Putin brushed off western criticism of the elections, telling his supporters it was “expected”.

“What did you want, for them to applaud us? They’re fighting with us in an armed conflict … their goal is to contain our development. Of course they’re ready to say anything,” he said.

The war was front and centre in his victory speech, as Putin claimed he was securing the border from recent raids by pro-Ukrainian military units and said that his main tasks as president would be the war in Ukraine “strengthening defence capacity and the military”.

Asked about the potential for a direct conflict with Nato, he said: “I think that everything is possible in the modern world … everyone understands that this would be one step from a full-scale third world war. I don’t think that anyone is interested in that.”

He also responded for the first time to the death of Alexei Navalny, claiming he had given approval to exchange the Kremlin critic for Russian prisoners in the west shortly before his death. “Unfortunately, what happened happened,” he said. “I agreed under one condition: we swap him, and he doesn’t come back. But that’s life.”

After counting 75% of the votes, Russia’s electoral commission said Putin was leading with 87.14% of the vote. In second place was the Communist party candidate, Nikolai Kharitonov.

The government claimed turnout was the highest in history at 74% of the electorate. Putin’s previous highest result came in 2018, when he purported to earn 76.7% of the vote with a 67.5% turnout.

As Putin sought a public mandate for his war in Ukraine and a fifth presidential term, the Kremlin’s electoral machine sought to boost his share of the vote and turnout to near farcical levels, posting results that used to appear only in Russia’s most despotic regions such as Chechnya.

In the face of Putin’s predictable victory, Russia’s embattled opposition sought to put together its own show of strength. Long queues formed at several polling stations in Moscow and other Russian cities as people took up a call from Navalny’s widow to head to the polls at noon on Sunday.

At an appearance at the Russian embassy in Berlin, Yulia Navalnaya urged her supporters to appear en masse in the symbolic show of strength, labelled “noon against Putin”. Her husband endorsed the plan before he died suddenly in an Arctic prison a month ago.

Navalnaya was greeted with huge applause and chants from voters and thanked people for turning up to honour her husband. “You give me hope that everything is not in vain, that we will still fight,” she said in a post on Sunday. She said she had written “Navalny” on her ballot paper.

The elections were quickly criticised by western countries. The US national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said: “The elections are obviously not free nor fair given how Mr Putin has imprisoned political opponents and prevented others from running against him.”

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in an address on Sunday evening, said Putin had become “addicted to power”.

“This imitation of ‘elections’ has no legitimacy and cannot have any,” he said. “This person must end up in the dock in The Hague. This is what we must ensure, anyone in the world who values life and decency.”

The German foreign ministry wrote in a post on X that the “pseudo-election in #Russia is neither free nor fair, the result will surprise nobody. Putin’s rule is authoritarian, he relies on censorship, repression & violence. The ‘election’ in the occupied territories of #Ukraine is null and void & another breach of international law.”

Navalny’s team called on voters to spoil their ballot papers, write “Alexei Navalny” across the voting slip or vote for one of the three candidates standing against Putin, though the opposition regards them as Kremlin “puppets”.

Reports from the ground suggested that queues suddenly formed at numerous polling stations across Russia’s big cities as the clock struck midday.

Leonid Volkov, a Navalny aide who was attacked by an unknown assailant with a hammer in Vilnius last week, said several thousand queues had formed at midday at polling stations across the country.

Ruslan Shaveddinov of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation said: “We showed ourselves, all of Russia and the whole world that Putin is not Russia, that Putin has seized power in Russia.”

En route to Putin’s win, Russia disqualified anti-war candidates, launched an unparalleled get-out-the-vote campaign targeted at state workers, and spent more than £1bn on a propaganda drive, according to leaked documents shared with the Guardian.

Russia: voters use petrol bombs and dye to protest against elections at polling stations – video


The Russian leader has faced no meaningful contest after the authorities barred two candidates who had voiced their opposition to the war in Ukraine. Three other politicians running in the election did not directly question Putin’s authority and their participation was meant to add an air of legitimacy to the race.

Long queues also formed at noon in places popular among Russian émigrés such as Berlin, Yerevan in Armenia, London and the Thai island of Phuket. Hundreds of thousands of Russians are estimated to have left the country since the start of the invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.

“This action was Navalny’s last wish. We just had to come today at noon,” said Dmitry, a Russian voter who moved to Phuket shortly after the start of the war in Ukraine. He asked for his last name to be withheld for fear of repercussions.

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle estimated that more than 2,000 voters turned up for the midday protest outside the Russian embassy in Berlin.

On Friday Russian prosecutors threatened any voters who took part in the “noon against Putin” action with five years in prison. In the southern city of Kazan, police detained more than 20 voters who had joined the protest, according to the independent rights monitor OVD-Info. Arrests were also reported in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Russians had made individual acts of protest, including pouring dye into ballot boxes and arson attacks at polling stations, in the preceding days.

Ella Pamfilova, Russia’s election commissioner, said those who spoiled ballots were “bastards”, and the former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said those responsible could face treason sentences of 20 years. Russia’s interior ministry said it had filed 155 administrative charges and opened 61 criminal cases during the elections, including 21 cases of obstructing voters’ rights.

Stanislav Andreychuk, a co-chair of the Golos independent election watchdog, said the pressure on voters from law enforcement had reached absurd levels.

“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve seen such absurdities and I’ve been observing elections for 20 years,” Andreychuk wrote on Telegram, referring to the actions of police who he said were checking ballots before they were cast.

Under constitutional changes that he orchestrated in 2020, Putin is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his latest expires next year, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036.

By 2029 his tenure will have surpassed that of Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years, making Putin the country’s longest-serving leader since the Russian empire.

You did not use the site, Click here to remain logged. Timeout: 60 second