Vladimir Putin’s candidates in Russian regional elections have dropped pro-war slogans over fears of losing votes.
Instead, United Russia candidates in governor, mayoral, MP and local assembly elections have campaigned on slogans emphasising unity and duty.
Even Putin, who voted online on Saturday, avoided mentioning his invasion of Ukraine during a 90-second video aimed at encouraging Russians to vote.
“I count that each of you will show a responsible civic position,” he said before turning to a desktop computer, jerking a mouse up and down and thumping the left-click button. Putin then smiled at the camera before it cut away to a screenshot from his computer congratulating him on voting.
The awkward voting video appears to be a Kremlin response to opinion polls that showed that its invasion of Ukraine is losing popularity.
A poll published this week showed that 38 per cent of Russians “definitely” support the war, compared to 48 per cent in February.
Ukrainian drones have hit Moscow and several Russian cities over the past few months, the Russian economy has shrunk and the rouble has lost value, undermining the Kremlin’s claim that its invasion will not impact ordinary Russians.
United Russia, Putin’s political party, had told its candidates to campaign heavily on the war earlier this year but then dropped this advice. It controls most of the governor and mayoral positions in Russia, as well as local assemblies, with a handful of exceptions.
Elections are also being held in parts of Ukraine that the Kremlin annexed last year but reports have said that turnout is low and that people are being bribed to vote with promises of food or threatened and forced to vote.
The West has described the elections in occupied Ukraine as a sham and warned of massive vote fraud. Last month, police detained the co-chairman of Golos, the only independent vote monitoring unit in Russia.
“This is nothing more than a propaganda exercise,” said US secretary of state Antony Blinken.
Voting closes on Sunday and results are expected on Monday.
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