Russian voters pour ink into ballot boxes and throw firebombs as Putin victory expected

Videos have been posted across social media of protestors attempting to cancel ballots by destroying them with coloured liquid, ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery reports

Russian voters poured ink into ballot boxes and lit firebombs at polling stations as the first of the country's three-day presidential election begins - that is all but certain to extend Vladimir Putin's rule by six more years.

Videos have been posted across social media of protestors attempting to cancel ballots by destroying them with coloured liquid - an apparent nod to the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who in 2017 was attacked by an assailant splashing green disinfectant in his face.

The Russian Central Election Commission said people poured ink into ballot boxes in five places, including Moscow.

In the city of St Petersburg, meanwhile, a woman threw a Molotov cocktail onto the roof of a school that houses a polling station, local news media reported.

News sites also reported on the Telegram messaging channel that a woman in Moscow set fire to a voting booth.

The Russian Central Election Commission said people poured green liquid into ballot boxes in five places, including Moscow

Ella Pamfilova, Head of the Russian Central Election Commission, said the demonstrations are "means used by our traitors who fled from the country".

In Russia, interfering with elections is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The elections are taking place against the backdrop of a ruthless crackdown, which has crippled independent media and prominent rights groups, and given Putin full control of the political system.

Putin, 71, is running for his fifth term virtually unchallenged, with his political opponents either in jail or in exile abroad.

The fiercest of them, Mr Navalny, died in a remote Arctic penal colony last month.

Vladimir Putin is running for his fifth term. Credit: AP

The three other candidates on the ballot are low-profile politicians from token opposition parties that toe the Kremlin's line.

Voting in Russia comes as Moscow's war in Ukraine enters its third year. Russia has the advantage on the battlefield, where it is making small, if slow, gains.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has made Moscow look vulnerable behind the front line. Long-range drone attacks have struck deep inside Russia, while high-tech drones have put its Black Sea fleet on the defensive.

Voters are casting their ballots from Friday through until Sunday at polling stations across the vast country's 11 time zones, as well as in illegally annexed regions of Ukraine.

For the first time, Russian's are also able to cast their ballots online.

Videos posted on Telegram showed a woman in Moscow set fire to a voting booth

More than 200,000 people in Moscow voted online soon after the polls opened, authorities said.

Observers have little to no expectation that the election will be free and fair.

Beyond the fact that voters have been presented with little choice, the possibilities for independent monitoring are very limited.

Ukraine and the West have also condemned Russia for holding the vote in Ukrainian regions, which Moscow's forces have seized and occupied.

The Kremlin banned two politicians from the ballot who sought to run on an antiwar agenda and attracted genuine - albeit not overwhelming - support.

There is little doubt over who will win the election. Credit: AP

Russia's scattered opposition has urged those unhappy with Putin or the war to show up at the polls at noon on Sunday - the final day of voting - in protest.

The strategy was endorsed by Mr Navalny not long before his death.

"We need to use election day to show that we exist and there are many of us, we are actual, living, real people and we are against Putin," Mr Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, said.

"What to do next is up to you. You can vote for any candidate except Putin. You could ruin your ballot."

Golos, Russia's renowned independent election observer group, said in a report this week that authorities were "doing everything so that the people don't notice the very fact of the election happening".

The watchdog described the campaign ahead of the vote as "practically unnoticeable" and "the most vapid" since 2000, when Golos was founded and started monitoring elections in Russia.

Putin's campaigning was cloaked in presidential activities, and other candidates were "demonstrably passive", the report said.

State media dedicated less airtime to the election than in 2018, when Putin was last elected, according to Golos.

Instead of promoting the vote to ensure a desired turnout, authorities appear to be betting on pressuring voters they can control - for instance, Russians who work in state-run companies or institutions - to show up at the polls, the group said.

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