Thousands of Russians join protest against re-election of Vladimir Putin

Thousands of people turned up at polling stations in Russia and capitals across the world on Sunday to take part in what the anti-Kremlin opposition said was a peaceful but symbolic protest against the re-election of President Vladimir Putin.

In an action called "noon against Putin", Russians who oppose the veteran Kremlin leader went to their local polling station at midday to either spoil their ballot paper or to vote for one of the three candidates standing against Putin, who is widely expected to win by a landslide.

Others had vowed to write the name of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died last month in an Arctic prison, on their voting slip and some visited Navalny's grave in Moscow to symbolically cast their vote for him.

Navalny's allies broadcast videos on YouTube of lines of people queuing up at different polling stations across Russia at midday who they said were there to peacefully protest.

Navalny had endorsed the "Noon against Putin" plan in a message on social media facilitated by his lawyers before he died. The independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper called the planned action "Navalny's political testament".

"There is very little hope but if you can do something (like this) you should do it. There is nothing left of democracy," one young woman, who did not give her name and whose face was blurred out by Navalny's team, said at one polling station.

Another young woman at a different polling station, whose identity had been disguised in the same way, said she had voted for the "least dubious" of the three candidates running against Putin.

A male student voting in Moscow told Navalny's channel that people like him who disagreed with the current system needed to go on living their lives regardless.

"History has shown that changes occur at the most unexpected of times," he said.

Despite the protesters - who represent a small fraction of Russia's 114 million voters - Putin is poised to tighten his grip on power in the election that is certain to deliver him a big victory.

Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova questioned if all those voting at foreign embassies were opponents of Putin and accused Western media of disseminating propaganda about the events.

"Russian citizens did not come to the rallies and performances that unfriendly regimes and their paid information services are trying to present," Zakharova said.

"They came to cast their vote. Who they voted for and how they voted is their free choice. But the fact that they rejected the appeals of the marginalised is obvious to everyone."


The Kremlin casts Navalny's political allies - most of whom are based outside Russia - as dangerous extremists out to destabilise the country on behalf of the West. It says Putin enjoys overwhelming support among ordinary Russians, pointing to opinion polls which put his approval rating above 80%.

With Russia's vast landmass stretching across 11 time zones, protest voters were scattered rather than concentrated into a single mass, making it hard to estimate how many people turned up for the protest event.

The size of the queues at each polling station shown on Navalny's channel ranged from a few dozen people to what looked like several hundred people.

Reuters journalists saw a slight increase in the flow of voters, especially younger people, at noon at some polling stations in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, with queues of several hundred people, and in some places even thousands.

Some said they were protesting though there were few outward signs to distinguish them from ordinary voters.

Leonid Volkov, an exiled Navalny aide who was attacked with a hammer last week in Vilnius, estimated hundreds of thousands of people had come out to polling stations in Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and other cities.

Reuters could not independently verify that estimate.

At polling stations at Russian diplomatic missions in Australia, Japan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Britain, hundreds of Russians stood in line at noon.

In Berlin, Yulia, Navalny's widow, showed up at the Russian embassy to take part in the protest event there along with Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokesperson. Other Russians present clapped and chanted her name.

Not all of the Russians who came to vote appeared to be opponents. In London, one man queuing to vote was wearing a top that read 'Jesus is my saviour. Putin is my president'.

Others were registering a protest.

"We haven't been heard for past 30 years. Nobody listened to us. We moved, we emigrated, and even here, far away from Russia, we feel the consequences of not us not being heard," voter Natalia Cherednikova said in London.

"This year is so important just to be there for ourselves, even though we all (are) ...fatalistic in terms of the meaning of it and that nobody really cares. It's just for ourselves that we've been here. We have voted. We showed up."