Russians protest Putin rule on final day of presidential election

Thousands of Russians went to the polls on Sunday in protest, organizing an effort to cast ballots at the same time against President Vladimir Putin.

Days before he died last month, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny endorsed the noontime protest, coming on the final day of the country’s three-day election. Opposition to Putin has skyrocketed since Navalny died in a Russian prison, which Western governments have denounced as an assassination.

“We want this dark time to end. We want a clear, normal future,” the protest campaign’s website reads. “But we, citizens of our country, with our pain and our hope, are not noticeable either to the authorities or to each other.

“AT NOON on Sunday, March 17, the last day of voting, when we come to the polling stations, we will show others and see for ourselves that there are many of us,” it continues. “We can become a force that cannot be hidden behind drawn percentages.”

The election results are a foregone conclusion, with Putin expected to win another six-year presidential term by massive margins. Between stints as prime minister and president, Putin has ruled Russia since 1999, making him the country’s longest-serving ruler since Joseph Stalin. If he completes the term, his rule would be the longest since Catherine the Great in 1796.

Putin is running effectively unopposed, with two official opponents barred from the ballot due to opposition against the Ukraine invasion, and Navalny jailed, leading to his death.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who has taken up her husband’s mantle as the face of Putin’s opposition, endorsed the protest movement this month.

“I want to do what [Alexei] thought was right, and I urge everyone to come to his memory,” she said in a video. “This will be your personal contribution to the common cause. There are probably many people close to you who are against Putin and against the war.”

Protests and violence have marred the election as Ukrainian drone attacks pepper the country. The Russian defense ministry said it shot down 35 Ukrainian drones over Russia on Sunday morning.

On Tuesday, a group of Russian citizens fighting against Putin’s government invaded the country from Ukraine, armed with tanks and heavy weapons. The Russian defense ministry said the rebel incursion was quickly suppressed and over 230 of the fighters were killed.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has slowed to a standstill, as Ukrainian forces struggle to keep their lines as supplies dwindle. Ukrainian leaders have continued to urge Congress to send more military aid, though the efforts have faced GOP opposition.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.