Enlarge image

Russian opposition politician Navalny: "People are thinking about who is in power and why"

Photo: Stefan Zeitz / IMAGO

In mid-March, the president is to be elected in Russia. It is considered certain that incumbent Vladimir Putin will run again. He has little to fear from real opponents. Now Kremlin opponents around the imprisoned Russian oppositionist Alexei Navalny have launched a campaign against the Kremlin chief.

"Russia without Putin" is the name of the campaign, in which citizens are asked to vote for any candidate – but not for the incumbent. This was announced by the exiled team abroad on Thursday. In Russia, there are always disputes in opposition circles about whether an election boycott or Navalny's line promises more success in expressing displeasure with Putin.

All citizens are called upon to win over other opponents of Putin to go to the polls in the next hundred days, Navalny's supporters said. The Kremlin's opponents also launched a website with explanations of how to vote. The elections are a parody. "But any election, even the most rigged, is a time of doubt. People are thinking about who is in power and why," Navalny's team said.

Making people understand that Putin is harming the country

The main task of the opposition and honest citizens is to respond to these doubts, to make it clear to people that Putin is harming the country. "For Putin, the 2024 elections are a referendum on his actions, on the war," the appeal said. The majority of Russians do not want to see Putin at the head of the country. "The results of the vote will be falsified, but our job is to make it clear to everyone that Russia no longer needs Putin."

Navalny's team also released a video of a large billboard erected in Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg. On it is the inscription "Russia", congratulations on the New Year and a QR code. If you download the code on your mobile phone, you will be taken to the opposition website entitled: "Russia without Putin".

In the morning, the Federation Council – the upper house of parliament – had officially scheduled the presidential election for March 17, 2024. This is the official start of the election campaign, said the head of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko. It is assumed that Putin will soon officially declare his expected candidacy. For days now, state television has been showing programmes in which citizens swear allegiance to the 71-year-old Kremlin chief and pledge to vote for him in his fifth candidacy.

Putin had the constitution changed in 2020 specifically to be able to run again. If re-elected, he can remain in office until 2030 and then possibly again in another election until 2036, when he turns 83.

The Kremlin expects a record result for Putin in the election, which is dominated by Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. The president presents himself as a champion against US supremacy and against NATO's eastward expansion. The stylization of the West as an enemy against which Putin is fighting catches on with many Russians. Other possible candidates are considered to have no chance. In the 2018 vote, Putin won 76.69 percent of the vote.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Putin could run again after 2036 instead of 2036. We have corrected the passage.