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Putin tightens grip on Russia in presidential election though thousands join noon protest

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****** tightens grip on Russia in presidential election though thousands join noon protest

Russian President Vladimir ****** is seen on a screen during a meeting with his confidants for the 2024 election at Gostiny Dvor in Moscow, Russia January 31, 2024. 

Maxim Shemetov | Reuters

President Vladimir ****** is poised to tighten his grip on power on Sunday in a Russian election that will deliver him a landslide victory. However, thousands of opponents staged a symbolic noon protest at polling stations.

******, who rose to power in 1999, is set to win a new six-year term that would enable him to overtake Josef Stalin and become Russia’s longest-serving leader for more than 200 years.

The election comes just over two years since ****** triggered the deadliest ********* conflict since World War Two by ordering the invasion of Ukraine. He casts it as a “special military operation”.

War has hung over the three-day election: Ukraine has repeatedly attacked oil refineries in Russia, shelled Russian regions, and sought to pierce Russian borders with proxy forces – a move ****** said would not be left unpunished.

While ******’s re-election is not in doubt, given his control over Russia and the absence of any real challengers, the former KGB spy wants to show that he has the overwhelming support of Russians. Several hours before polls were due to close at 1800 GMT, the nationwide turnout surpassed 2018 levels of 67.5%.

Supporters of ******’s most prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, who ***** in an Arctic prison last month, called on Russians to come out at a “Noon against ******” protest to show their dissent against a leader they cast as a corrupt autocrat.

There was no independent tally of how many of Russia’s 114 million voters took part in the opposition demonstrations, which were held amid extremely tight security involving tens of thousands of police and security officials.

Reuters journalists saw an increase in the flow of voters, especially younger people, at noon at polling stations in Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, with queues of several hundred people and even thousands.

Some said they were protesting, though there were few outward signs to distinguish them from ordinary voters.

As noon arrived across Asia and Europe, hundreds of people gathered at polling stations at Russian diplomatic missions. Navalny’s widow, Yulia, appeared at the Russian embassy in Berlin to cheers and chants of “Yulia, Yulia.”

Exiled Navalny supporters broadcast footage on

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of protests inside Russia and abroad.

‘People saw they were not alone’

“We showed ourselves, all of Russia, and the whole world that ****** is not Russia and that ****** has seized power in Russia,” said Ruslan Shaveddinov of Navalny’s Anti-*********** Foundation. “Our victory is that we, the people, defeated *****, we defeated solitude — many people saw they were not alone.”

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

At least 74 people were arrested on Sunday across Russia, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors crackdowns on dissent.

Over the previous two days, there were scattered incidents of protest as some Russians set ***** to voting booths or poured green dye into ballot boxes. Russian officials called them scumbags and traitors. Opponents posted some pictures of ballots spoiled with slogans insulting ******.

But Navalny’s ****** has left the opposition deprived of its most formidable leader, and other major opposition figures are abroad, in jail or *****.

The West casts ****** as an autocrat and a *******. U.S. President Joe Biden last month dubbed him a “crazy ****.” The International ********* Court in the Hague has indicted him for the alleged war ****** of abducting Ukrainian children, which the Kremlin denies.

****** casts the war as part of a centuries-old battle with a declining and decadent West that he says humiliated Russia after the Cold War by encroaching on Moscow’s sphere of influence.

“******’s task is now to imprint his worldview indelibly into the minds of the Russian political establishment” to ensure a likeminded successor, Nikolas Gvosdev, director of the National Security Program at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Russia Matters project.

“For a U.S. administration that hoped ******’s Ukraine adventure would be wrapped up by now with a decisive setback to Moscow’s interests, the election is a reminder that ****** expects that there will be many more rounds in the geopolitical boxing ring.”

Russia’s election comes at what Western spy chiefs say is a crossroads for the Ukraine war and the wider West in what Biden casts as a 21st-century struggle between democracies and autocracies.

Support for Ukraine is tangled in U.S. domestic politics ahead of the November presidential election, which pits Biden against his predecessor, Donald Trump. Trump’s *********** party in Congress has blocked military aid for Kyiv.

Though Kyiv recaptured territory after the invasion in 2022, Russian forces have lately made gains after a ******* Ukrainian counter-offensive last year.

The Biden administration fears ****** could grab a ******* slice of Ukraine unless Kyiv gets more support soon. CIA Director William Burns has said that could embolden China.

****** says the West is engaged in a hybrid war against Russia and that Western intelligence and Ukraine are trying to disrupt the elections.

Voting is also taking place in Crimea, which Moscow took from Ukraine in 2014, and four other Ukrainian regions it partly controls and has claimed since 2022. Kyiv regards the election on occupied territory as ******** and void.

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Elections,Xi Jinping,Vladimir ******,business news
#****** #tightens #grip #Russia #presidential #election #thousands #join #noon #protest

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