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Russian election criticized by EU, NATO ahead of polling day

March 14, 2024

Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win against three Kremlin-approved candidates and no real opposition. Polling opened a day early in the occupied regions of Ukraine under close military supervision.

An election poster for Vladimir Putin in occupied Crimea
Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to win another six years in powerImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

The European Union and NATO said Russia's presidential election would be neither free nor fair, a day before polling stations open across the country.

"We know, given the track record of how votes are being prepared and organized in Russia under the current Kremlin administration and regime, how this will look like," EU spokesperson Peter Stano said.

"It's very difficult to foresee that this would be a free, fair and democratic election where the Russian people would really have a choice."

Russia's Vladimir Putin up for reelection

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pointed out that there is no viable opposition or freedom of press in Russia.

"We know already that opposition politicians are in jail, some are killed, and many are in exile, and actually also some who tried to register as candidates have been denied that right," he said.

What do we know about the election?

The election will run through the weekend and last for three days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will face off against three Kremlin-approved candidates. No genuine opposition candidates have been permitted to run.

The result is expected to hand Putin another six years in power, which would make his overall tenure longer than any Russian leader since Catherine the Great.

Electoral officials setting up a polling station in Yekaterinburg
Polling stations across Russia will open on FridayImage: Donat Sorokin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny who died in custody last month, has called for protests at polling stations.

Authorities have warned against any demonstrations.

"The organization of and participation in these mass events are punishable by virtue of the legislation in place," Moscow prosecutors said on Telegram.

Polls open in occupied Ukrainian regions

While polls won't open in Russia until Friday, polls opened on Thursday in the four regions of Ukraine that Russia annexed last year.

Ukrainians living under Russian occupation have reportedly been coerced to vote, with Moscow urging Ukrainians to vote "for their president" and to "take part in the future of our country."

Russian authorities have dispatched a number of mobile polling stations — sometimes to people's  doorsteps — arguing that it is safer to vote this way.

A Russian polling official accompanied by a heavily armed soldier in Donetsk
Russian authorities deployed mobile polling stations in Donetsk and other occupied regions of Ukraine on ThursdayImage: Dmitry Yagodkin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Vadym Boychenko, the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol in the Donetsk region that is partially occupied by Russia, described Russia's "electoral process in ruins."

He reported that a woman with a ballot box showed up at his neighbor's apartment "accompanied by two Chechen military men with machine guns" and made clear that voting was not optional.

"The elections are an extension of military occupation and of the war itself ... rather than an exercise in the democratic franchise," said Sam Greene, a director at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington.

People casting their ballots at a mobile polling station in Donetsk
The European Union will not recognize the vote held in the four regions of Ukraine that Russia has occupied since last yearImage: Dmitry Yagodkin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

The EU said it would not recognize the ballot in those four regions, while Stoltenberg said that "Russia's attempts to organize any part of an election in occupied regions of Ukraine are completely illegal, violating international law."

Ahead of the vote, Kyiv has ramped up its aerial bombardment of Russian regions across the border.

A wave of attacks on Belgorod killed at least two people on Thursday, while the Russian national guard said it was also fighting off attacks from pro-Ukrainian militias in Kursk.

zc/wmr (AFP, AP)