Five things to know about Russia’s presidential elections

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Russia is holding a presidential election from Friday to Sunday that is set to hand President Vladimir Putin another six-year mandate despite the tumult triggered by Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.

Here are five things to know about the vote:

No opposition

The only would-be candidates opposed to the campaign in Ukraine, Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova, who gathered tens of thousands of signatures to support their candidacies, had their applications turned down.

Other than Putin, there are three registered candidates -- the nationalist conservative Leonid Slutsky, the Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov and Vladislav Davankov, a businessman.

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They have all supported Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Kremlin critics point out that the role of these three candidate is to channel any discontent and give a pluralist varnish to the vote at a time when the opposition has been decimated by repression.

Independent observers also say the authorities have means at their disposal to manage the results, including vote-rigging, ballot-stuffing and using millions of state employees to back the status quo.

The only unknown factor is whether there could be any protests, as called for by late opposition leader Alexei Navalny and now his widow, Yulia Navalnaya.

Thousands of supporters turned out to pay their respects at Navalny’s funeral in Moscow last month, some chanting anti-government slogans.

His widow has urged supporters to come to polling stations at 0900 GMT on Sunday and protest by voting for anyone other than Putin or spoiling their ballots and writing “Navalny” on them.

Putin’s promises

While the result of the election is not in doubt, the government is campaigning hard, in a bid to strengthen Putin’s domestic and international legitimacy.

The Kremlin chief is in a better position now because of Russian advances in Ukraine, amid cracks in Western support for Kyiv, and the Russian economy has proven resilient despite heavy sanctions.

Putin has stepped up media appearances in recent weeks, meeting students, visiting factories and even taking a flight in a nuclear bomber.

However, the Russian president has never taken part in an election debate since coming to power nearly a quarter of a century ago and will not start now.

In his State of the Nation speech last month, he made a long series of budget promises, handing out billions of rubles to modernize schools and infrastructure, fight poverty, protect the environment and boost technology.

The speech laid out a program of government until at least 2030.

Economic concerns

Even though the economy has held up far better than expected, many Russians are worried about rising prices -- particularly for food -- and, in general, the instability generated by the campaign in Ukraine.

Labor shortages have piled up since thousands of young men have either died or are fighting in Ukraine, while hundreds of thousands of other people have fled abroad because they oppose the conflict or to avoid military service.

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The authorities have clamped down hard in recent months on demonstrations by the wives of conscripted soldiers who have been asking for their loved ones to be allowed to return from the front.

Calls to vote

Patriotic posters have been plastered around the country, calling on Russians to vote.

The election posters have a “V” sign akin to the one used by Russian troops in Ukraine and the slogan: “Together, we are strong. Let’s vote for Russia!”.

The authorities will also organize raffles and entertainment to encourage voters to come out and vote in a country where disenchantment with politics, particularly among young people, is high.

Neighboring Ukraine and its Western allies are presented as troublemakers in state media and official speeches.

Putin warned in December about possible “foreign interference” in the vote and promised a “severe response”.

Last week, Russia summoned the US ambassador Lynne Tracy, accusing US-funded NGOs of “spreading disinformation” about the election.

Voting in occupied areas

In a telling indication of the paradox of Russian authorities trying to project normality amid an ongoing conflict, there will be voting in Russian-held areas of Ukraine.

Russia in 2022 declared the unilateral annexation of four regions of Ukraine -- even though its troops still do not control them fully.

Kyiv says local inhabitants are now being subjected to threats and violence to force them to vote -- something which Moscow denies.

Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine have been able to cast their ballots early.

Read more:

Third year into Russia's war, Ukraine on the defensive

Russian election body finds flaws with anti-Putin candidate’s papers

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