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EDITORIAL | Anti-Putin Sentiment Can't Be Covered Up by Stage-Managed Win in Russia

Putin may play up his "overwhelming victory" but as long as he commits outrageous acts like the invasion of Ukraine, the backlash at home and abroad won't stop.



Russian presidential candidate and incumbent President Vladimir Putin speaks after polling stations close, in Moscow. March 18, 2024. (©REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

Vladimir Putin was reelected to a fifth term as Russia's president. Facing only token opposition, Putin won in a landslide with more than 87% of the vote, a historical high. In his victory speech, Putin said he was grateful for the trust placed in him by the Russian people. 

The fact remains, however, that this was an election riddled with deception

Candidates who opposed Putin's invasion of Ukraine or voiced "anti-regime," "anti-war" opinions were declared ineligible to run. In this and other respects, it could in no way whatsoever be called a democratic election. 

According to an arbitrary amendment made to the Russian constitution in 2020, from this point, Putin will be able to rule for a maximum of two 12-year terms. Should he do so, he would be in office for a total of 36 years and be 83 by the time he maxes out his term. His de facto dictatorship for life would eclipse that of Joseph Stalin during the Soviet era. 

Russia's Central Election Commission in Moscow displays preliminary results of the presidential election on March 17, 2024. (©REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov)

How Putin Won

Putin garnered support by falsely claiming that he would "protect the country from a war initiated by the West." Election day on March 18 also coincided with the 10th anniversary of Russia's unilateral annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine. Unabashedly, he sought to use that to stoke patriotic sentiment among the Russian people. It became his vehicle to justify the continued invasion of Ukraine and bolster a stance of confrontation with the West. 

If we look at the actual situation in Russia, the illegitimacy of the election becomes perfectly obvious. How "election workers" went door-to-door in Crimea is indicative of this travesty of an election. They did the same in parts of four regions in the east and south of Ukraine to force people to vote. The Russian military controls these territories. 

Vladimir Putin greets presidential election campaign agents at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 20. (©Tass via Kyodo)

International Condemnation

It was only natural that Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy should denounce the sham poll. "There is no legitimacy in this imitation of an election…. The only thing they fear is justice," Zelenskyy said.

Japan, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union were among nearly 60 countries and regions that issued a joint statement. In it, they condemned "in the strongest possible language" the staging of the illegal presidential election in territories Russia had no right to be in. 

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi declared that the annexation of Crimea and other Ukrainian territories clearly infringed upon Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and violated international law. He also said that holding the Russian presidential election in these territories was absolutely unacceptable. 


Western countries should denounce this gross deception and strengthen their solidarity in support of Ukraine. 

Vladimir Putin attends a rally marking the 10th anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Red Square, Moscow, on March 18, 2024. (© REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

Backlash at Home and Abroad

Despite the stage-managed election results, we should not overlook the fact that strong anti-Putin sentiment remains alive in Russia. 

Recently, Putin's chief political opponent, Alexei Navalny, died suddenly in the Arctic prison camp he had been transferred to. Before the election, his widow, Yulia Navalny, called on supporters to stage a mass protest at noon on the last day of voting. In response, long lines formed at polling stations in dozens of cities at that hour. Furthermore, people demonstrated their "anti-regime" feelings by writing in the name of someone other than Putin on their ballots. 

Putin will continue trying to play up his "overwhelming victory." However, as long as he continues committing outrageous acts like the invasion of Ukraine, the backlash at home and abroad will not cease. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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