Navalny’s wife takes part in Russia election protest as dozens arrested

Alexei Navalny’s widow joined protestors in Berlin as thousands queued outside polling stations and dozens were arrested in Russia for resisting Vladimir Putin’s presidency on the final day of the Russian election.

Yulia Navalnya joined Russian voters on Sunday in the German capital as they lined the streets outside the Russian embassy, where supporters clapped and chanted her name.

Leading up to the election, allies of Navalny, Mr Putin’s fiercest political foe, had urged those unhappy with the Russian leader or the war in Ukraine to protest by heading to the polls at noon on Sunday, a strategy endorsed by Navalny shortly before his death in an Arctic prison last month. His team and family have blamed Mr Putin for his death.

Ms Navalnaya embraces a woman at a rally near the Russian embassy in Berlin (Photo: Tobias SchwarzAFP via Getty Images)

Ms Navalnaya reiterated her husband’s call to action asking supporters to spoil ballots by writing “Navalny” on them.

“Alexei was fighting for very simple things: for freedom of speech, for fair elections, for democracy and our right to live without corruption and war,” she said in a message to a rally in the Hungarian capital Budapest on Friday.

“Putin is not Russia. Russia is not Putin.”

Dozens of people cast their vote for Navalny by placing voting slips with his name written on it at his grave at Borisovo cemetery in southern Moscow.

People lay flowers at the grave of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on the day of Russia's presidential election in Moscow on March 17, 2024 (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP) (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)
People place flowers at Navalny’s grave on Sunday (Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

“We choose you,” said one tribute.

Supporters were shown placing flowers on Navalny’s grave, which was already piled high with flowers.

At least 65 people were detained in 16 cities across Russia during the “Noon Against Putin” protest, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia.

Team Navalny hailed the “Noon against Putin” protest a success, releasing pictures and videos of people crowding near polling stations in various cities across Russia around midday.

Professor Anthony Glees, a Russian intelligence security expert at the University of Buckingham, told i that considering the high-risk nature of protesting in Russia the “Noon Against Putin” demonstrations were “not insignificant”.

Voters stand beside layed flowers and a portrait of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died one month prior in an Arctic prison, as they queue outside the Russian embassy as they wait to vote in Russia's presidential elections in The Hague, on March 17, 2024. (Photo by Robin van Lonkhuijsen / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Voters stand beside flowers and a portrait of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny as they wait to vote in Russia’s presidential elections in The Hague (Photo: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AFP via Getty Images)

“Anybody making a protest knows they run a risk of labour camps or death – so the fact they are prepared to risk this to show the world its a sham is significant,” he said.

“You can kill or few people like Navalny, but you cannot kill an entire generation.”

With a guaranteed victory in the election, Mr Putin may surpass Joseph Stalin’s 29-year rule to become Russia’s longest-serving leader.

Mr Putin claimed the president title in 2012, later changing the presidential terms to six years before the 2018 vote.

People queue to vote on the final day of the presidential election in Russia, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, outside the Russian Embassy, in London, Britain, March 17, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
People queue to vote outside the Russian Embassy, in London (Photo: Kevin Coombs/Reuters)

In 2020, he changed the constitution again, allowing him at least two terms before 2036. If Mr Putin remains as leader he will be Russia’s longest-standing president in history.

Two people were arrested on Sunday at polling stations in the cities of Moscow and Ufa when one man wore a t-shirt bearing the tag “Navalny” and another attempted to post a picture of the opposition leader into the ballot box.

Vyacheslav Golikov was asked to change his t-shirt at a polling station in the Russian capital, and was taken to the police station when he refused, according to OVD-Info.

Bulat Khalikov told OVD-Info that he was detained in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan region, after trying to throw a picture of Navalny into the ballot box.

Boris Nadezhdin, a liberal politician who tried to join the race on an anti-war platform but was barred from running by election officials, said: “I believe that the Russian people today have a chance to show their real attitude to what is happening by voting not for Putin, but for some other candidates or in some other way, which is exactly what I did.”

Police and officers in civilian clothes refused to allow voters at a polling station in Kazan in south-western Russia at midday, according to local media. Voters were told to “come back later, in a couple of hours”.

A man threw two petrol bombs into the courtyard of the Russian embassy in the Moldovan capital Chisinau where voting was taking place, the Russian Tass news agency reported, citing the embassy. The man was detained by the Moldovan police, the embassy added.

In Armenia, between 2,500 and 5,000 people were estimated to be queuing outside the Russian embassy in the capital Yerevan.

In the Netherlands, at least 1,000 people were standing in a queue outside the Russian embassy in The Hague. A larger gathering was reported outside the Russian consulate in Barcelona, Spain.

According to Russia’s foreign ministry, 125,428 people voted abroad at 230 polling places in 111 countries as of Sunday morning.

More than 60 per cent of eligible voters had cast ballots as of Sunday, Associated Press reported, including in illegally annexed regions of Ukraine.

The three-day vote that began on Friday has been struck by a wave of Ukrainian bombardments and drone attacks, with one refinery at Slavyansk in southern Russia hit by airstrikes on Sunday morning.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported downing 35 Ukrainian drones overnight, including four in the Moscow region.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said a fifth drone, close to the capital’s Domodedovo airport, was downed on Sunday , but no casualties or damage were reported.

It comes after two people died in Ukrainian strikes in the Russian city of Belgorod on Saturday.