Putin sees disastrous start to presidential election

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The beginning of Russia’s three-day election weekend was marred by protests, military conflict and reported cyber attacks as President Vladimir Putin is all but certain to be elected to serve another six-year term.

Moscow officials were once again accused by Western officials and Russian adversaries of tipping the country’s presidential election in Putin’s favor ahead of polls opening on Friday. Several of Putin’s challengers were running campaigns from behind bars or were blocked from appearing on the presidential ballot. If things continue to go as planned for Putin, due to a law he signed in 2021, the Kremlin leader could stay in power until 2036.

Arrests were made at several polling stations Friday after protesters poured dye into ballot boxes in Moscow, Crimea and the Karachayevo-Cherkessia region, according to Russian media reports. One of such instances was captured on camera and shared to X, formerly Twitter, by Washington Post Moscow bureau chief Robyn Dixon. The footage shows a woman pour a dark-colored dye into a ballot box at an unspecified polling location, and she is almost immediately detained by a law enforcement officer.

A Russian man voting and Vladimir Putin
In the main image, a man votes in Russia’s presidential election in Yekaterinburg in the Urals on March 15, 2024. The smaller image from the Russian state news agency Sputnik shows Russian President Vladimir Putin…


Photos by ANNA YURIEVA/MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Saint Petersburg news outlet Fontanka reported that a 21-year-old woman was detained, accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a polling site in the Moskovsky District. According to the report, the woman told police officers that she was ordered to carry out arson from a “Ukrainian Telegram channel” in exchange for payment.

Newsweek reached out to the foreign ministries of Ukraine and Russia for further comment via email on Friday.

Ukrainian officials also claimed to have hacked Russia’s online voting systems on Friday. A spokesperson for Kyiv’s military intelligence agency (HUR) told The Kyiv Independent that the agency was making attempts to disrupt online election systems, adding, “There are no elections or democracy there anyway.”

Cross-border attacks were also reported along Russia’s border with Ukraine, where pro-Kyiv Russian militia groups claimed to have taken control of a village in the Kursk region earlier this week. Putin said at a meeting for Russia’s Security Council on Friday that his country’s western regions were facing repeated shelling and that around 2,500 armed Ukrainian “proxies” were carrying out the attacks.

“These enemy strikes will not remain unpunished,” the Kremlin leader added, per Reuters’ report.

Russia’s electoral commission chair Ella Pamfilova also spoke out against protests and damage to ballot box locations on Friday, telling Russian media that such actions were punishable by up to five years in jail.

“Especially for all the scumbags who are ready to destroy the votes of people who came and voted because of these silver pieces,” Pamfilova said, referencing reports that some of the detained perpetrators had allegedly been paid by Ukraine.

Russian-appointed officials acting in occupied territories of Ukraine said that an explosive device was detonated in a trash bin outside a polling station in Skadovsk, a small, port-side city in the Kherson region, according to a report from the BBC. No injuries were reported in the attack.

Moscow’s decision to hold elections within Ukrainian territory illegally annexed in 2022 was denounced by Kyiv officials, who called on their allies “to resolutely condemn Russia’s intention to hold presidential elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories, and to impose sanctions on those involved in their organization and conduct.”