April 13, 2024

Brighton Journal

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In the vote inside Moscow, Putin will win without opposition

In the vote inside Moscow, Putin will win without opposition

MOSCOW, Russia — A steady stream of voters arrived at a polling station in the heart of the Russian capital early this sunny Friday to cast their ballots in the three-day presidential election.

With no doubt about the winner, the Kremlin will instead look to turnout as a measure of popular support for Vladimir Putin's rule extending across this vast country.

Muscovites filed into this school-turned-voting site as soon as the doors opened at 8 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET). At the entrance stood a large banner decorated with the letter “V” in the colors of the Russian flag and indicating the dates of the elections that will be held on Friday and Sunday.

Authorities have used the Latin letters “V” and “Z” as unofficial symbols for their war in Ukraine, which has entered its third year as the country's army advances onto the battlefield.

The Kremlin's expanded control over Russian life means there is no real opposition to Putin, with the other three men on the ballot representing pro-Putin parties that have only sparsely campaigned.

However, some voters said they didn't need an alternative.

Nina Kiseleva, 90, told NBC News as she exited the station that she got out early to vote for another six years of Putin. “Because I trust him. I really trust him,” Kiseleva said, adding that she had lived through a large number of Soviet leaders, including Joseph Stalin. “I remember when Stalin died, his funeral in 1953, I remember it well. “And now I only trust Putin,” she said.

Svetlana Kulikova said she voted electronically at the station, an option for the first time this year.

Like Kiseleva, she said she also voted for Putin. “We live well, we are satisfied with everything, and well, we are very satisfied with our president,” 59-year-old Kulikova said.

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Denis Babushkin, who works in highway construction, said Putin was the only “suitable” candidate among the four, so he voted for him. Babushkin (39 years old) said: “He is the only person who has made others respect Russia as a country recently.” While he said he is not happy with everything happening in the country, he said the positives still outweigh the negatives.

Denis Babushkin.NBC News

Gauging public opinion has become almost impossible since the start of the war, with many people afraid to speak freely amid a crackdown on dissent. But Putin's approval rating remains high at 86%, according to the independent pollster Levada Center.

NBC News also saw a group of 15 municipal workers show up as an organized group to vote and leave together. In the past, Russian authorities have faced accusations of forcing state employees to participate in elections.

There is not much suspense on this occasion, as two candidates with anti-war views have been barred from running in the election, and there is little independent monitoring of the voting process.

But a high voter turnout would be seen as legitimizing the war This helps cement the idea that the country is united around its president, who is already the Kremlin's longest-serving leader since Stalin. In 2018, 67% of eligible voters turned out to vote, and the Kremlin will want to boast that it surpassed that number on Monday.

On the eve of the election, Putin, 71, appealed to feelings of patriotism and duty in a special video message, where he encouraged people to vote and show unity.

The Kremlin's efforts to encourage turnout were evident across Russia on Friday, with videos emerging of celebrities performing inside polling stations, and one area even allowing the public to take photos with a cardboard cutout of Tucker Carlson, the conservative commentator who recently interviewed Putin and became president. For ministers. America's favorite character is here.

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Voters cast their ballots at a school turned polling station in central Moscow on Friday.NBC News

But Russian state media also reported some incidents of disruption, including several cases in which people poured colored dye inside or on top of ballot boxes, and others used Molotov cocktails to set fire to polling stations.

The country's opposition, devastated by the crackdown and the killing of its leader Alexei Navalny, is divided over how Russians should handle the election. Some have called for a boycott; Others urged people to spoil their votes or vote for any candidate other than Putin.

The most likely protest will center on a call for Russians to turn out in large numbers to polling stations at noon on Sunday in all 11 time zones in the country, in a silent show of discontent.

Some voters at the Moscow polling station told NBC News they knew about the call for this protest.

Elena, who did not want to reveal her last name, said she knew the vote would take place on Sunday, but had the opportunity to vote today.

Elena (24 years old), who works as an economist and did not say who she voted for, said: “I think that in order to have your own opinion and have a position on something, one does not necessarily need to come on Sunday afternoon.” . “Otherwise you will come on your own two feet, but you may not leave on your own.”

This is likely a reference to the authorities' crackdown, which has left many Russians fearful of arrest and reluctant to give their last names to foreign media.

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Perhaps most worrying for the Kremlin is that this week has seen an uptick in Ukrainian drone attacks across large parts of Russia, and attempted ground incursions into the Belgorod and Kursk border regions, which appear to be continuing after several days of fighting.

Regional governors urged people to vote on Friday, but also shared warnings about missile threats and suggested voting electronically if necessary given the potential risks to people leaving their homes.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the intensified attacks were “attempts to cast a shadow over the elections.”

Presidential candidates, including Putin, parade inside a polling station in Moscow on Friday.Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP – Getty Images

This is the first presidential election in which people can vote electronically, raising concerns about fraud and fraud, which have historically plagued Russian elections. Russia's Ministry of Digital Development said 1.6 million people had already voted electronically on Friday morning, state news agency TASS reported.

More than 114 million Russians are eligible to vote in elections, including nearly 2 million abroad. For the first time, people in the four occupied regions of Ukraine annexed by Russia will also be included, in violation of international law in a move condemned by Kiev and its Western allies.

Results are expected to start coming in late Sunday, and Putin's landslide victory is expected to be announced on Monday.

Keir Simons and Natasha Lebedeva reported from Moscow. Yulia Tilmazan reported from London.