‘Noon against Putin’, Molotov cocktails and dye in ballot boxes – how Russians protested the election

Across three days of voting there have been scattered incidents of Russians defying authorities in acts of protest against Vladimir Putin.

The president is all but assured to win another six-year term in office, facing a lack of any credible opposition and amid reports of voting irregularities.

Despite the seemingly preordained outcome, some Russians engaged in acts of defiance to express their opposition.

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People stand in a line to enter a polling station around noon on the final day of the presidential election in Moscow, Russia, March 17, 2024. Yulia Navalnaya, widow of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, called on Russians to join an election day protest at noon on March 17 to vote against President Vladimir Putin or spoil their ballots. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
People queue to vote around noon in Moscow. Pic: Reuters

‘Noon against Putin’

Associates of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who was found dead last month, had urged voters to turn to vote at the same time, midday on Sunday, as a symbolic protest.

It was a strategy endorsed by Mr Navalny himself shortly before his death.

It was seen as a safer way of demonstrating in a country where freedom of speech has been repeatedly constrained, but the Kremlin previously warned of legal consequences for anyone taking part.

Queues of people formed on polling stations in Moscow, and Mr Navalny’s team released pictures and videos of people crowding near polling stations in cities across Russia around noon.

However, it is not clear how many of those had heeded the call and were there for the “noon against Putin” demonstrations.

At least 74 people were arrested on Sunday across Russia, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors crackdowns on dissent.

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Cheers for Yulia Navalnaya at anti-Putin protest

Protests were held outside Russia, where citizens were voting at embassies.

Among them was Mr Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who has become the face of the opposition after her husband’s sudden death.

In Berlin, where she joined the queue, she was welcomed with cheers and chants of “Yulia, Yulia” by the crowd.

Meanwhile, outside the Russian embassy in London, several people lined up to cast their ballots.

Aleksandra Kallenberg, 19, told Sky News she queued for an hour to vote in her first election after arriving in the UK in October.

“I spoiled my ballot. At least the government will know they don’t have our support. While Putin is leader I will not go back to Russia but I hope to go back when Russia is free,” she said.

In Paris, rain did not stop thousands of people from gathering outside the embassy, while a large queue was reported outside the consulate in Istanbul and a protest was reported in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Pics: Reuters/Telegram
Scattered protests have taken place across Russia. Pics: Reuters/Telegram

Pouring dye into boxes – and Molotov cocktails

There have been reports of Russians pouring dye into voting boxes and lighting Molotov cocktails in scattered acts of protest against the election.

Russia’s electoral commission said attempts to spoil ballot papers were reported at 29 polling stations, including 20 where people tried to pour liquids into ballot boxes.

Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova said there had also been arson attempts at eight polling stations and the attempted use of a smoke pellet at another.

Russian media say two women were arrested after pouring green dye into ballot boxes on the outskirts of Moscow.

Such an act of protest could land them up to five years in prison, authorities said.

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“These are the methods used by our traitors who fled the country, who are used both in the tail and in the mane by those who fight Russia,” Ms Pamfilova said on Friday.

She described the protesters as “scum”.

Elsewhere, in a remote Urals region and in the city of St Petersburg, protesters tried to destroy ballot boxes using Molotov cocktails, state media reported.

‘Noon against Putin’

diana magnay headshot

Diana Magnay

International correspondent


“Noon against Putin” was Alexei Navalny’s last political request of the Russian people: Go out at noon on the last day of voting to show that you’re against Putin.

Vote for anyone else, spoil the ballot paper, do what you will, but the point being to queue to vote at that specific time so it is known that there are still people in Russia who don’t agree with Vladimir Putin and with his hollowed out sham of a democracy.

People have come out at polling stations in the big cities as noon rolled across Russia’s vast expanse.

Not in huge numbers but they have come – in cities like Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Novosibirsk, St Petersburg and of course Moscow.

It is hard to estimate numbers, for queues of people at individual polling stations but there is enough social media video filtering through to show that hundreds possibly thousands had turned up for noon. In Moscow certainly, where foreign broadcasters and the main news agencies are still operating, there were notable queues.

Some our team spoke to in Moscow were hesitant even to admit they were heeding Mr Navalny’s call by turning up at this time; after all, noon is as good a time as any to cast your vote. But it is as good a way of protesting as there is, when protest is banned and the authorities warning on Friday already that any kind of rally at noon would be considered a criminal act.

This was never going to be a revolutionary moment. That is almost inconceivable in wartime Russia now, although Russia’s extraordinary history does have precedent.

But “noon against Putin” was another moment to show people that they are not alone, to flex the opposition muscle – just as people did when they queued to give their signatures to the anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin, or to lay flowers at Mr Navalny’s grave.

It is better to do something than nothing at all, even if all it does is help you sleep better at night.

As per the old maxim which Mr Navalny himself would often quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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