EU prepares sanctions after Putin’s sham election


EU READIES NEW SANCTIONS OVER NAVALNY’S DEATH: As Vladimir Putin celebrates his sham landslide Russian presidential election “win,” the EU plans to agree new sanctions today against his mafia-like state and security apparatus.

The message is clear: Russia’s ballot ritual was not a free or fair election, with censorship rife, journalists persecuted and opposition candidates either barred, jailed or dead.

Navalny’s ‘killing’: The 27 EU foreign affairs ministers and top diplomat Josep Borrell, who meet in Brussels from 10:30 a.m., will target “individuals and entities” of Putin’s regime such as prison officials, according to diplomats and officials.

“We hope that there will be a political agreement on sanctioning a number of people involved in the … killing of Alexei Navalny,” said a high ranking EU official, in reference to the Russian opposition leader who died in highly suspicious circumstances in an Arctic prison last month, after a previous failed assassination attempt in 2020.

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NO LONGER UNSPEAKABLE: Putin, meanwhile, publicly said Navalny’s name for the first time in years last night, claiming in a campaign victory press conference that he’d agreed to let the opposition leader go in a prisoner exchange. Putin said “some colleagues” had proposed swapping Navalny several days before he died “for some people who are in prison in Western countries.” He said he agreed to the idea, as long as the opposition leader never returned to Russia, “But, unfortunately, what happened happened … It happens. What can you do? That’s life.”

Reminder: Navalny was arrested upon his return to Russia in 2021, five months after being poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of the Novichok group. Western leaders and Navalny himself blamed Russia’s FSB secret service, acting on Putin’s orders, for the poisoning.

HONORING NAVALNY’S LAST WISH: Thousands of Russians went to polling stations at noon on Sunday, heeding Navalny’s call for a “Noon Against Putin” protest. They formed long queues in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Perm, Chelyabinsk and other cities across Russia.

Worldwide phenomenon: Russian expats also participated in the act of defiance at embassies and consulates around the world. In Berlin, Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya joined thousands of protesters, exiled opposition MPs and others, forming a kilometer-long queue in front of the Russian Embassy, as Spiegel reported. Navalnaya said she had written her husband’s name onto the ballot paper. In Brussels, Denis Leven reports hundreds lined up outside the Russian Embassy to cast their ballots at noon on Sunday, forcing a backlog.

The Kremlin’s explanation for the Noon Against Putin protests: It was simply high voter turnout (or fake news), of course.

IS THIS A BALLOT BOX OR A ZOO? Across Russia at polling stations people dressed in costumes, among them a rabbit, a beaver, a polar bear, a herd of yaks and also a Barbie, presumably to infuse the election with some joy and take attention away from the Noon Against Putin crowd. Russia’s state-run RIA highlighted the work of election observer Kuzya the cat.

None of which distracted from this fact: Putin won a record 87 percent of the vote, on a 73 percent turnout — beating even the most enthusiastic pro-Kremlin predictions. He’ll use the landslide (secured in part with the help of the voting dead) as proof of mass support — but such an absurd election result risks undermining the very political stability Putin craves, writes my colleague Eva Hartog in her essential analysis.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Here are five scenarios for Russia after Putin’s next term, by Casey Michel.

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