Russians head to the polls this weekend

The Russian election is perhaps the only one this year for which the results had been reported well before the first ballots had been cast. 

Driving the news: People in Russia and occupied Ukraine are heading to the polls this weekend to vote in the national election, but given the lack of genuine opposition to current President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader is all but guaranteed another six years in power. 

  • Under Putin, the Kremlin has jailed critics while opposition leaders such as Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov, and others have been killed, jailed, or have fled the country.

  • It has also maintained tight control over the media, blocking or shutting down all the remaining independent sources of information since the start of the war in Ukraine. 

Still, Putin is trying to play up the optics of high voter turnout — the Kremlin claims it expects at least 70% of the population to vote, in line with the turnout of U.S. elections. On Friday, many bosses in the public sector forced workers to vote and snap photos as proof.   

  • Some polling stations took a softer approach, by creating a circus atmosphere with free pancakes, The Price Is Right-like prizes (like motorcycles), and entertainment.

  • But not all Russians are playing along, with some engaging in individual protests across the country — setting fire to polling booths or pouring dye into ballot boxes.

Why it matters: With term “limits” swept aside, Putin will keep the ball rolling on what’s been his most controversial era yet, presenting the risk of raising economic and military tensions with Western nations, and a fresh crackdown on dissent within his own borders.—SB