Why Russians are voting in Putin’s sham election in India’s Kerala

Russians in India cast their votes in Russian presidential elections  (Screengrab/MathrubhumiNews)
Russians in India cast their votes in Russian presidential elections (Screengrab/MathrubhumiNews)

As Russians start to vote in presidential elections that Vladimir Putin is expected to win, thousands of miles away a pop-up election booth has been set up in a coastal city in India so that expats there can cast their ballots too.

Dozens of Russians who are in India’s Kerala on tourist and other visas will cast their votes in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, at a booth specially arranged at the honorary consulate of the Russian Federation.

Three days of voting began earlier on Friday in Russia, where president Vladimir Putin is expected to secure six more years in a sham election where all forms of political dissent have been stifled.

Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Russians with the means to do so have fled the country and settled abroad as the Kremlin announced conscription and declared punishments for deserters in 2022.

The Russian foreign ministry in January said that expatriate Russians will be able to vote in the presidential election even if they live in “unfriendly” countries that have imposed sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine. India does not rank in that category, however, and has actually taken advantage of the war to secure cheap Russian oil.

Foreign affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said there would be polling stations in all countries where Russia has diplomatic missions. Overseas voting is being conducted at 288 polling stations across 144 countries, according to the Central Election Commission of Russia as reported by Russian state media Tass.

Similar international polling was conducted in 2018, but the number of stations will be fewer this year as many diplomatic missions in Europe have been closed due to the war and the resulting international fallout.

During the 2018 elections, more than 401 polling stations were set up globally and more than 475,000 expatriates took part in the election process, according to the Election Commission.

Russian citizens living in Kerala arrived in the capital from the towns of Ernakulam, Varkala and Kovalam to cast their votes.

The exercise is being staged at an awkward moment for the normally amicable India and Russia, with the Indian foreign ministry urging Putin’s government to ensure the safe release of a number of Indian nationals who were lured into fighting in its invasion of Ukraine. Around 35 Indian men are trapped in Russia after they fell prey to a major human trafficking racket, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has said.

Ratheesh C Nair, honorary consul for Russia in Kerala, said it would be the third time that Russian elections were conducted at the state’s Russian House.

“Prior to this, polling had been carried out twice for both the Russian presidential and parliamentary elections. Also this time, the number of voters surpasses expectations,” he said.

A Russian voter, identified in the media only by her first name, Olga, told the New Indian Express “there are high chances for an increase in vote for the Communist Party as many of them are supporting and laying faith upon it”. Unsurprisingly, she predicted that Putin would win the election.

None of the other three candidates on the ballot have presented any credible challenge to Putin, or indeed criticised him or his policies in public, while two candidates who had hoped to contest the election on an anti-war message were banned from running.

Nikolai Kharitonov, a 75-year-old member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, is the official candidate of the Communist Party.

The second candidate is Vladislav Davankov of the New People Party, who has received a state award from Putin in the past.

The third is Leonid Slutsky, 56, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), who has voiced support for the Ukraine war and the need to keep food prices down.

The Russian nationals voting in Kerala will use traditional paper ballots despite the country switching to electronic voting machines in 1992. These ballot papers will then be sent to Moscow through diplomatic channels from Chennai.

Sergey Azurov, senior consul general in Chennai, said: “We are organising preliminary voting in the framework of presidential elections. We are here to provide an opportunity for the citizens of Russian federations living in India.”