U.S. Envoy Frustrated With Kurti’s Refusal To Reverse Serbian Dinar Ban

Russians have begun a second day of voting in a presidential election that has seen sporadic protests as some, defying threats of stiff prison sentences, showed their anger over a process set up to hand Vladimir Putin another six years of rule.
By midd…

Russians have begun a second day of voting in a presidential election that has seen sporadic protests as some, defying threats of stiff prison sentences, showed their anger over a process set up to hand Vladimir Putin another six years of rule.

By midday of March 16, Russian police had opened at least 15 criminal probes into incidents of vandalism in polling stations, independent media reported.

More than one-third of Russia's 110 million eligible voters cast ballots in person and online on the first day of the country's three-day presidential election, the Central Election Commission (TsIK) said after polls closed on March 15 in the country's westernmost region of Kaliningrad.

Balloting started up again on March 16 in the Far East of Russia and will continue in all 11 time zones of the country, as well as the occupied Crimean Peninsula and four other Ukrainian regions that Moscow partially controls and baselessly claims are part of Russia.

Putin is poised to win and extend his rule by six more years after any serious opponents were barred from running against him amid a brutal crackdown on dissent and the independent media.

The ruthless crackdown that has crippled independent media and human rights groups began before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was launched, but has been ratcheted up since.

Almost exactly one month before the polls opened, Putin's most vocal critic, opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, died in an isolated Arctic prison amid suspicious circumstances as he served sentences seen as politically motivated.

Some Russians expressed their anger over Putin's authoritarian rule on March 15, vandalizing ballot boxes with a green antiseptic dye known as "zelyonka" and other liquids.

Among them was a 43-year-old member of the local election commission in the Lenin district of Izhevsk city, the Interior Ministry said on March 16.

The official was detained by police after she attempted to spill zelyonka into a touchscreen voting machine, the ministry said. Police didn’t release the woman’s name, but said she was a member of the Communist Party.

Similar incidents were reported in at least nine cities, including St. Petersburg, Sochi, and Volgograd, while at least four voters burned their ballots in polling stations.

In Moscow, police arrested a woman who burned her ballot inside a voting booth in the city’s polling station N1527 on March 15, Russian news agencies reported, citing election officials in the Russian capital.

The news outlet Sota reported that that woman burned a ballot with "Bring back my husband” handwritten on it, and posted video purportedly showing the incident.

There also was one report of a firebombing at a polling station in Moscow, while In Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, a 21-year-old woman was detained after she threw a Molotov cocktail at an entrance of a local school that houses two polling stations.

"It’s the first time I've see something like this -- or at least [such attacks] have not been so spectacular before," Roman Udot, an election analyst and a board member of the independent election monitor Golos, told RFE/RL.

"The state launched a war against [the election process] and this is the very striking harvest it gets in return. People resent these elections as a result and have started using them for completely different purposes [than voting]."

Russia's ruling United Russia party claimed on March 16 that it was facing a widespread denial-of-service attack -- a form of cyberattack that snarls internet use -- against its online presence. The party said it had suspended nonessential services to repel the attack.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to toughen punishments for those who try to disrupt elections "by arson and other dangerous means." Under the current law, such actions are punishable by five years in prison, and the lawmakers proposed to extend it to up to eight years in prison.

No Serious Challengers

Before his death, Navalny had hoped to use the vote to demonstrate the public's discontent with both the war and Putin's iron-fisted rule.

He called on voters to cast their ballot at 12 p.m. on March 17, naming the action "Noon Against Putin." HIs wife and others have since continued to call for the protest to be carried out.

Viral images of long lines forming at this time would indicate the size of the opposition and undermine the landslide result the Kremlin is expected to concoct.

Putin, 71, who has been president or prime minister for nearly 25 years, is running against three low-profile politicians -- Liberal Democratic Party leader Leonid Slutsky, State Duma deputy speaker Vladislav Davankov of the New People party, and State Duma lawmaker Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party -- whose policy positions are hardly distinguishable from Putin's.

Boris Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old anti-war politician, was rejected last month by the TsIK because of what it called invalid support signatures on his application to be registered as a candidate. He appealed, but the TsIk’s decision was upheld by Russia's Supreme Court.

"Would like to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in the elections starting today," European Council President Charles Michel wrote in a sarcastic post on X, formerly Twitter, on March 15.

"No opposition. No freedom. No choice."

Ukraine and many Western governments have condemned Russia for holding the vote in regions it occupies parts of, calling the move illegal.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added his voice to the criticism on March 15, saying he "condemns the efforts of the Russian Federation to hold its presidential elections in areas of Ukraine occupied by the Russian Federation."

His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, added that the "attempted illegal annexation" of those regions has "no validity" under international law.

Many observers say Putin warded off even the faintest of challengers to ensure a large margin of victory that he can point to as evidence that Russians back the war in Ukraine and his handling of it.

With reporting by Reuters and AP


This content originally appeared on News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and was authored by News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.


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