Presidential elections kick-off in Russia

Voters will cast their ballots from Friday to Sunday at polling stations across the country’s 11 time zones

Voting offices opened in Russia’s Far East, kicking off a three-day presidential election in which Vladimir Putin, in power for 24 years, seeks a new term.

The polls began on Friday at 8:00 local time (20:00 GMT Thursday) on the Kamchatka Peninsula and in Chukotka, in the far eastern part of Russia, and will conclude on Sunday at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT) in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave amidst European Union countries.

The elections come as Moscow’s war in Ukraine enters its third year. Russia holds the advantage on the battlefield, making slow but steady progress. Meanwhile, Ukraine has made Moscow appear vulnerable behind the front line: long-range drone attacks have struck deep into Russia, while high-tech drones have put its Black Sea fleet on the defensive.

Voters will cast their ballots from Friday to Sunday at polling stations across the country’s 11 time zones, as well as in annexed Ukrainian regions.

The elections hold little uncertainty as 71-year-old Putin seeks his fifth term virtually unopposed. His political opponents are either in jail or exiled abroad, with the fiercest among them, Alexei Navalny, recently dying in a remote Arctic penal colony. The other three candidates on the ballot are low-profile politicians from symbolic opposition parties following the Kremlin’s line.

Only registered candidates or state-backed advisory bodies can assign observers to polling stations, reducing the likelihood of independent oversight. With three days of voting across nearly 100,000 polling stations nationwide, genuine oversight is difficult anyway.

Ukraine and the West have also condemned Russia for holding the vote in Ukrainian regions seized and occupied by Moscow’s forces.

The Kremlin excluded two politicians who intended to run on an anti-war platform and had genuine, though not overwhelming, support, thus depriving voters of any choice on the “main issue of Russia’s political agenda,” said political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, who used to work as a speechwriter for Putin.

Russia’s scattered opposition has urged those discontented with Putin or the war to go to the polls on Sunday at noon, the last day of voting, as a protest. The strategy was endorsed by Navalny shortly before his death.

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