Updated March 18, 2024 at 8:30 AM ET

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide reelection victory on Sunday, taking 87% of the vote after a three-day election derided by government critics and the West as neither free nor fair.

Going into the vote, the Kremlin was believed to seek not merely victory but a historic turnout: one that showed the country more united than ever behind their leader, more than two years into the full scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russia's Central Elections Commission later issued data showing 77% of the country's eligible 114 million voters had cast ballots — a new post-Soviet record.

"I want to thank all of you and all citizens of the country for your support and this trust," Putin said at campaign headquarters in Moscow early Monday.

Later, fielding questions at a press conference, Putin derided claims the vote was undemocratic and said Russians had merely rallied behind him when faced with threats from Ukraine and an aggressive West.

"We have many tasks ahead. But when we are consolidated — no matter who wants to intimidate or suppress us — nobody has ever succeeded. Not in history, not now, nor will they ever succeed in the future," said Putin.

Yet the outcome of the contest was never in doubt.

Putin's opponents in the race — all members of Russia's rubber-stamp parliament — barely ran campaigns or held any rallies at all. None received more than 5% of the vote.

Meanwhile, antiwar candidates were banned from the ballot over registration errors — undoing the will of thousands of Russians who backed their candidacies with cumbersome signature gathering campaigns.

"The Kremlin couldn't afford having these candidates in the race," says Abbas Gallaymov, a former Kremlin speech writer turned government critic in exile.

"The election would have turned into a referendum on the issue of war and peace," he adds, noting that was a referendum Putin would lose.

There were also widespread concerns of vote rigging — particularly given the election's unusual three-day schedule, expanded electronic voting, and the fact that Russia's military was charged with securing the vote in occupied territories of Ukraine.

Beneath the veneer of Putin's landslide, dissent was visible throughout the election.

According to a human rights monitoring group, at least 89 Russians were detained for a series of election-related protests — some of them quickly went viral online.

In several cities, voters dumped dark liquid dye into ballot boxes. In others, they set fire to voting booths.

The death of Putin's fiercest critic, the opposition leader Alexey Navalny, in a remote prison colony last month – under mysterious circumstances — also stirred resistance.

From Berlin, Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya called on her late husband's supporters to honor his last known political plan: a symbolic protest that would see Russians swarm polling stations at noon on the last day of the vote — providing a visual counterpoint to what the opposition insists is Putin's hollow mandate.

In Moscow, an NPR reporter witnessed some two hundred people gather at a voting precinct shortly after noon – despite the presence of police and what appeared to be plain clothed government agents filming with cameras.

"The stars magically aligned for me to show up here at noon," said Alexei, a university student who — like others at the event — declined to provide his last name out of fear of reprisals from the state.

"If all the people who say they want change actually did something about it, we'd live in a different country," he added.

Vera, a retiree, said she'd come to the protest fearing she'd be alone.

"But today is my day. Look at these beautiful young people," she said, pointing to the line going down the block from the polling station.

She said she'd brought her own pen into the voting booth and drawn on her ballot: "NAVALNY."

Similar lines were spotted in voting precincts around Moscow and other major Russian cities.

Tributes also appeared to "our real president" at Navalny's grave in the south of Moscow.

Meanwhile, larger crowds, some in the thousands, formed outside Russian embassies around the globe — a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of Russians who fled their country in the wake of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Yet for all the power and symbolism of their actions, voters opposed to Putin could do little to impact the vote itself.

That was much to the delight of Kristina and her husband Sergei — Putin supporters who declined to give their last names to an American journalist due to their work in the government security services.

"Russia should have a czar. Call it what you want: a monarch, president, the secretary of the Communist Party, but we need someone who can manage the country," said Sergei, who credits Putin with saving Russia from economic and political chaos following the end of the USSR.

"And the longer he stays, the better," added Kristina.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.



Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed another victory over the weekend. He won a landslide reelection, taking some 87% of the vote in an election that Russia's opposition and the West describe as neither free nor fair, particularly since the main opposition leader is dead. NPR's Charles Maynes watched the race unfold from Moscow.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Russia's presidential vote at times had the atmosphere of a carnival, with songs, gimmicks and extravagant prizes to lure in voters, all part of a wider Kremlin strategy to secure a historic turnout that'd show a country united behind their president after more than two years into the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

VLADIMIR: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "It's how it's always been done in Russia. We vote for our leaders and will do so again," explains Vladimir, a pensioner who cast his vote for Putin and, like everyone I talked to, declined to provide his last name to Western media out of fear of reprisals. But beneath all the talk of unity, these elections had plenty of dissent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Dozens of people were detained for acts of vandalism, including setting voting booths on fire and pouring dark liquid dye into ballot boxes, apparent protests over a race that offered no real choice. Putin's opponents, all members of Russia's rubber-stamp parliament, barely ran campaigns. Meanwhile, would be anti-war challengers were banned from the ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Putin, Putin, Putin...

MAYNES: Vote rigging was also a concern, given three days of balloting, expanded electronic voting and Russia's military overseeing the election in occupied territories of Ukraine.


KORVA COLEMAN, BYLINE: Russia's most prominent opposition figure has died.

MAYNES: The still-unexplained death of Alexei Navalny in a remote prison colony last month further cast a pall over the vote.

YULIA NAVALNAYA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Widow Yulia Navalnaya, heard here, later called on her husband's supporters to act on his last known political wish by swarming polling stations at noon on Sunday, a symbolic people-powered protest against what the opposition argued was Putin's hollow mandate. Outside a polling station in Moscow on Sunday, I watched as a couple hundred people appeared just after 12, despite police and what appeared to be undercover agents with cameras looking on.

ALEXEI: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "The stars magically aligned for me to show up here right now," says Alexei, the university student, with a wink, adding if everyone he knew who said they wanted change and acted on it, Russia would be a different country.

VERA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Vera, a retiree, emerged from the polling station with a broad smile as she looked at the crowd. On her ballot, she said she'd written in bold letters...

VERA: Navalny. (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Similar lines were spotted in voting precincts around Moscow and other major Russian cities.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Russian).

MAYNES: Larger crowds, some in the thousands, formed outside Russian embassies across the globe. Yet these symbolic acts had little impact on the official vote count, much to the delight of Kristina and her husband Sergei, who credit Putin with saving the country from the turbulent, if relatively democratic decade that followed the end of the USSR.

SERGEI: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Russia needs a czar, says Sergei. Call it what you want - a monarch, a president, or the secretary of the Communist Party. We need one person to rule the country.

KRISTINA: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: And the longer the better, adds Kristina. With President Putin now having secured a new six-year term and recent constitutional reforms opening the door for yet another through 2036, it appears both she and the Russian leader may get their wish.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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