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Navalny widow joins thousands of protesters as Putin declares victory in sham election

Yulia Navalnaya, widow of the late Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends a rally next to the Russian embassy in Berlin (AFP via Getty Images)
Yulia Navalnaya, widow of the late Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends a rally next to the Russian embassy in Berlin (AFP via Getty Images)

The wife of the late Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny joined thousands of protesters at voting stations on Sunday as they vowed to stand up against Vladimir Putin, who declared victory in the rigged presidential elections.

Yulia Navalnaya, who had endorsed her late husband’s call to flock to the polling stations for the “Noon Against Putin” campaign, waited in line for six hours outside the Russian embassy in Berlin before casting her vote.

She told crowds after she left the building that she had written her husband’s name on the ballot, having waited in a line more than a kilometre long and which snaked through multiple streets.

Asked whether she had a message for Mr Putin, Ms Navalnaya replied: “Please stop asking for messages from me or from somebody for Mr Putin. There could be no negotiations and nothing with Mr Putin, because he’s a killer, he’s a gangster.”

But Mr Putin brushed off the effectiveness of the apparent protest. “There were calls to come vote at noon. And this was supposed to be a manifestation of opposition. Well, if there were calls to come vote, then ... I praise this,” he said at a news conference after polls closed.

Unusually, Mr Putin referenced Navalny by name for the first time in years at the news conference. And he said he was informed of an idea to release the opposition leader from prison, days before his death. Mr Putin said that he agreed to the idea, on condition that Navalny didn’t return to Russia.

However, thousands appeared to heed the call both inside and out of Russia, as opposition figures claimed they had made their voices heard in the face of elections without independent observers or any legitimate opponents to Mr Putin.

“The real winner of Russia’s ‘election’ today – Yulia Navalnaya,” said Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia under Barack Obama. “Tens of thousands answered her call and came to the polls today at noon to express their opposition to Putin.”

Vladimir Putin was up against three candidates from parties who have not criticised his rule nor his invasion of Ukraine (AP)
Vladimir Putin was up against three candidates from parties who have not criticised his rule nor his invasion of Ukraine (AP)

Russian authorities, meanwhile, arrested more than 80 people across 17 cities for taking part in the campaign, independent human rights organisation OVD-Info reported, despite it involving no obvious illegal behaviour.

In Ufa, southern Russia, one man said he was detained for attempting to throw a photo of Navalny into a ballot box. He told OVD-Info that the authorities then threatened to charge him with obstructing the work of election commissions.

It came as Mr Putin declared his victory after the first exit polls suggested, predictably, that he had won a landslide victory in the presidential elections.

Speaking at his campaign headquarters, Mr Putin thanked those who voted for him and expressed “special gratitude to our warriors on the line of contact”, referring to the soldiers fighting in the war in Ukraine.

He also claimed that the result showed that Russia was building a “common will of the people”.

Before the results were finalised, Russian politicians also began to congratulate Mr Putin on his victory.

“Congratulations to all Russia’s enemies on Vladimir Putin’s brilliant victory in the election of the President of the Russian Federation!” wrote former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on social media. “And a thank you to friends for the support.”

With more than 70 per cent of regions counted, the Russian Central Election Commision claimed Mr Putin had received more than 87 per cent of the vote. The government also claimed the turnout was the highest in history at 74 per cent. In 2018, the turnout was 67.5 per cent.

In occupied Ukraine, where armed Russian soldiers were seen looming over Ukrainian civilians in the polling stations, the commission claimed more than 90 per cent of voters had signed for Mr Putin.

It was widely expected that Mr Putin would not only win these rigged elections but that he would improve on his previous victory in 2018, in which he received more than 76 per cent of the vote. In 2012, he received 63.6 per cent of the vote.

David Cameron, the British foreign secretary, wrote on X: "The polls have closed in Russia, following the illegal holding of elections on Ukrainian territory, a lack of choice for voters and no independent OSCE monitoring. This is not what free and fair elections look like."

Russian opposition politician Lyubov Sobol said: “The difference between these elections and previous ones: this time they decided not to even count. Previously, they somehow still calculated and adjusted.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has not spoken to his Russian counterpart since Mr Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, said the autocrat had become “sick with power”.

“These days, the Russian dictator imitates another ‘elections’,” he said. “Everyone in the world understands that this person, like many others throughout history, has become sick with power and will stop at nothing to rule forever.

“Everything Russia does in Ukraine’s occupied territories is a crime. This imitation of ‘elections’ has no legitimacy and cannot have any. This person must end up on the dock in The Hague.”