Putin's ploy to extend rule backed by Russians: live updates

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4:29 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

Putin critic Navalny slams vote result as "a huge lie"

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

Alexey Navalny, Russian opposition leader, walks with demonstrators during a rally in Moscow on February 29, 2019.
Alexey Navalny, Russian opposition leader, walks with demonstrators during a rally in Moscow on February 29, 2019. Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Russian opposition figure and prominent Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny dismissed the official results of the vote on constitutional amendments as “a huge lie.”

“Right now a huge number of people are frustrated by the result. I voted ‘no,' everyone around voted ‘no,' and the result is a solid 'yes,'” Navalny wrote in a blogpost.

"The ‘results’ they just announced are fake and a huge lie, this has nothing to do with the opinion of Russian citizens.

"Putin lost this 'vote' before it began. After all, he refused to hold a real referendum in accordance with all the rules and with observers present. Because he understood: if there are rules -- he will lose. He can only win where he draws numbers,” Navalny added.

Independent organizations have cast doubt on the numbers and the referendum drew criticism from monitoring groups for lack of regulation. 

4:11 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

76% of Russians back constitutional amendments: preliminary results

From CNN's Mary Ilyushina

Members of an election commission count ballots after voting finished at a polling station in the eastern Siberian city of Chita, Russia, on July 1.
Members of an election commission count ballots after voting finished at a polling station in the eastern Siberian city of Chita, Russia, on July 1. AP

Russia’s Central Elections Commission said 76.24% of citizens had voted in support of constitutional changes, after processing 50% of votes as polls closed on Wednesday night.

Russian voters overwhelmingly backed the constitutional amendments that allow Vladimir Putin to seek two more six-year terms, potentially extending his rule until 2036. 

But independent organizations such as the “NO” movement, which organized independent polling in Moscow and St. Petersburg, say their exit polls show a lower lever of support in Russia’s capital with with 45% of residents voting yes. 

3:03 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

Putin has won a resounding victory in his bid to stay in power

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Mary Ilyushina

President Vladimir Putin has won a resounding victory in his bid to stay in power until the middle of the next decade, as Russians voted overwhelmingly to endorse the country's political status quo, according to preliminary results.

Russians went to the polls Wednesday to cast ballots in a nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments. The vote paves the way for Putin, who has ruled for two decades, to remain president until 2036.

Campaign literature made little mention of the real purpose of the referendum, framing it as a return to old-fashioned family values, designed to appeal to conservative voters.

"Our country, our constitution, our decision" was the slogan on the information bulletin explaining the constitutional reform to voters. The brochure spelled out a range of amendments, including a provision defining marriage strictly as a "union of a man and a woman."

The brochure glosses over one key point: The changes to the constitution effectively reset the clock on Putin's term limits, allowing him to seek two more six-year terms when his presidency ends in 2024.

2:15 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

Russian voters back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule: Preliminary results

Russian voters have overwhelmingly backed a ploy by President Vladimir Putin to rule until 2036 in a referendum with little doubt about the outcome, according to preliminary results.

Russia’s Central Election Commission said that 73% of citizens had voted in support of constitutional changes, after processing 25% of votes as polls closed on Wednesday night.

The changes to effectively reset the clock on Putin's term limits, allowing him to seek two more six-year terms when his presidency ends in 2024.

1:27 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

Two dozen people detained in Russia referendum protests: Monitoring group

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

At least two dozen people have been detained in protests against the referendum, the monitoring group OVD-Info said Wednesday. 

According to the group, 14 people have been detained in Moscow, four in St. Petersburg, two in Nizhny Novgorod and one each in the cities of Novosibirsk, Blagoveshchensk, Khanty-Mansiysk and Penza.

1:31 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

"Putin Forever?"

From CNN's Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

A man in Pushkin Square holding a poster that reads: “Putin forever?” Mary Ilyushina/CNN
A man in Pushkin Square holding a poster that reads: “Putin forever?” Mary Ilyushina/CNN

A couple of hundred people have gathered at Pushkin Square -- a favorite rallying point in Moscow -- for a demonstration against the constitutional amendments.

Protesters held signs that read “Putin forever?” referring to the amendment that could extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule until 2036.

Some chanted “Russia will be free” and “Best amendment -- Putin’s resignation.” One demonstrator, Andrey, who did not disclose his last name, said he came to the square to protest the scant economic support provided by the state to people like him, who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“What prevented them to do all these things -- health care, good education, decent social benefits -- in the past 20 years? Why do we need a new constitution for that?” he said. 

Marina Litvinovich, member of a movement called NYET (No), told CNN their organizations’ exit polls in Moscow and St. Petersburg showed that about half of voters are against the proposed changes. 

“We believe that [the official numbers] are in many ways a falsification and there is an administrative resource involved to force people to vote but you have to look past official results ... as the authorities won’t be able to be blind to the people who voted no.” 

Police surrounded the square with patrol cars and buses but so far there have been no detentions. A woman wearing police uniform was handing out medical masks to journalists and protesters.

12:19 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

The pandemic has dented Putin's sky-high ratings

From CNN's Matthew Chance, Zahra Ullah and Nathan Hodge

Russian President Vladimir Putin wears a protective suit during a visit to a Moscow hospital where patients are being treated for coronavirus, on March 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wears a protective suit during a visit to a Moscow hospital where patients are being treated for coronavirus, on March 24. Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

Putin's popularity has taken a hit during coronavirus, but his approval ratings are still high. 

Russia has been one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic -- ranking behind only the United States and Brazil in Covid-19 case numbers -- and the government's response has received heavy criticism at home and abroad.

The referendum vote, originally scheduled for April 22, was delayed amid coronavirus concerns. Election officials said early voting would be held to aid social distancing: Russia is still reporting around 7,000 new cases each day, according to official statistics.

Russian doctors have described critical shortages of equipment, a situation that hospital administrators and local governments deny. Observers have questioned whether Russia is under-reporting mortality figures from the deadly disease. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov -- who has returned to work after being hospitalized with Covid-19 in May -- defended his country's handling of the pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with CNN last month, Peskov said the virus had not posed a domestic political crisis for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that Russia's healthcare system had saved lives despite coming under major strain.

The pandemic dented usually sky-high ratings for Putin. Independent pollster Levada-Center noted that the Russian President's ratings fell below 60% in April and May, levels not seen since he assumed office two decades ago -- a drop that Peskov dismissed.

"We are concerned about this pandemic, and we are concerned about the impact of this pandemic on the country's economy," Peskov said on Tuesday. "But President Putin has stated numerous times that he doesn't care about his personal ratings, that in politics if you are real statesman, you should not think about your ratings -- because if you think about your ratings, you won't be able to take responsible decisions."

12:41 p.m. ET, July 1, 2020

PHOTOS: President Putin votes in referendum intended to keep him in power

Russian President Vladimir Putin cast his ballot at a voting station inside the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, where he traditionally votes during all elections and referendums.

Local media reported that the surroundings were cleaned up and renovated a few days ahead of the planned appearance. The organizers there took extra health precautions by placing a sticky mat at the entrance, which they claimed could “remove coronavirus from shoes.”

Everyone entering the building must also sanitize their hands and put on a mask -- except Putin, who did not wear one.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to take part in voting at a polling station in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, July 1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to take part in voting at a polling station in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, July 1. Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport to a member of an election commission as he arrives to take part in voting at a polling station in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, July 1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport to a member of an election commission as he arrives to take part in voting at a polling station in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, July 1. Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP