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A woman votes in Russia’s presidential election at a polling station in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Friday’s voting was marked by disruptions including dye being poured into ballot boxes, a Molotov cocktail thrown at a polling station in St Petersburg, and reported cyber attacks, the writers say. – Picture: AFP / on March 16, 2024

By Reuters and Sputnik

President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of trying to disrupt the Russian presidential election and said Moscow would punish Kyiv for its latest attacks.

The election being held this weekend is the eighth in the country’s modern history, Sputnik reported. The president of the Russian Federation is elected for a six-year term.

Millions of Russians began casting their ballots in the main polling event across 11 time zones on Friday.

More than 114 million Russians are eligible to vote, including in what Moscow calls its “new territories” – four regions of Ukraine that its forces only partly control, but which it has claimed as part of Russia. Ukraine says the staging of elections there is illegal and void.

According to the Central Election Commission, 83 percent of citizens, who had registered to vote online via the federal remote electronic voting platform, had already taken part in the election, Sputnik reported yesterday afternoon.

Friday’s voting was marked by disruptions including dye being poured into ballot boxes in Moscow, Crimea, and the Caucasus region of Karachayevo-Cherkessi, a Molotov cocktail thrown at a polling station in St Petersburg – Putin’s home town – and reported cyber attacks.

More than 90,000 cyber attacks were carried out on the portal of the Central Election Commission, public services and other resources, which is eight times more than last year, a Sputnik post on social media site X stated, quoting a report by the Russian telecommunications company Rostelecom.

The war in Ukraine cast a shadow over voting, with what Putin said was the repeated shelling of Russia’s western regions and an attempt by 2,500 Ukrainian proxies to cross into two Russian regions with tanks.

“These enemy strikes will not remain unpunished,” a visibly angry Putin said at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council.

Ukrainian officials said the attacks were carried out by Russian-armed groups based in Ukraine who were opposed to the Kremlin.

A Russian ballistic missile hit a residential area in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 70, in Moscow’s deadliest attack in weeks, Ukrainian officials said. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia would receive a “fair response” for what he said was a “vile” strike.

The governor of Russia’s Samara region said yesterday that Ukrainian drones had struck two oil refineries belonging to state-owned oil giant Rosneft in the region, causing no casualties, but leaving one facility on fire.

The Volga River region’s Syzran refinery was on fire but an attack on the Novokubyshev refinery was thwarted, Governor Dmitry Azarov said in a statement on Telegram.

He said workers at the plants had been evacuated and there were no casualties.

The war in Ukraine has helped Putin tighten his grip on power and boost his popularity with Russians, according to polls and interviews with senior Russian sources.

The Kremlin said Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since the last day of 1999, would win because he commanded broad support for rescuing Russia from post-

Soviet chaos and standing up to what it called an arrogant, hostile West.

The other candidates contesting the elections are Communist Party of the Russian Federation nominee Nikolai Kharitonov, 75, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia nominee Leonid Slutsky, 58, and New People party nominee Vladislav Davankov, 40.

Putin, 71, dominates Russia’s political landscape and none of the other three candidates presents any credible challenge.

Russia’s best-known opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony last month and other Kremlin critics are exiled or in jail.

The opposition said the vote was a sham and it called on people across Russia to protest by turning out to vote all at the same time today at noon in each of the country’s 11 time zones.

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Navalny, has called on the West not to recognise election results.

Russians in about a third of the country can vote electronically for the first time in a presidential election – something critics say is impervious to scrutiny and open to abuse.

“These are the most closed, most secret elections in Russian history,” Stanislav Andreichuk, co-chairperson of the Golos vote-monitoring group, that the state has branded a “foreign agent”, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

EU chief Charles Michel on Friday sarcastically congratulated Putin on winning the election against no real opposition, as voting was only just beginning.

“Would like to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in the elections starting today,” European Council president Michel wrote on X.

“No opposition. No freedom. No choice.”

A victory by Putin would see his reign outstretch that of Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, making his rule the longest in Russia since Catherine the Great. – Reuters and Sputnik

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