Russian emigres in Armenia stand in line to vote against Putin

By Thomson Reuters Mar 17, 2024 | 10:30 AM

YEREVAN (Reuters) – At least a thousand anti-Kremlin Russian emigres queued for hours outside their embassy in Armenia on Sunday, waiting to cast ballots in presidential election they admit they have little chance of influencing.

A more than one kilometre long queue was snaked through the streets around the large embassy complex in central Yerevan, where voting was being held. All those who spoke to Reuters said they had come to register their opposition to Vladimir Putin and his policies.

“It’s clear that the president will be elected without us,” said Kirill, a Russian living in Armenia who did not give his surname.

“I came personally to show that I disagree and to show that there are many of us. It seems to me that if the authorities see that there are many of us who disagree, then at least life in Russia may be a little easier for people and maybe some changes will occur.”

Armenia, which allows Russians to stay without a visa, became one of the most popular refuges for Russians opposed to the Kremlin as political repression and conscription ramped up after the Feb. 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Yerevan authorities said in 2023 that over 100,000 Russians had moved to the mountainous South Caucasus country of around 3 million people.

Many of those Russians, who are typically young, anti-war and opposed to President Vladimir Putin, showed up to cast their votes on Sunday.

Allies of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who died in an Arctic penal colony last month, had asked his supporters in Russia and abroad to come to the polls at midday on Sunday in a show of strength.

They recommended supporters either spoil their ballots, or to vote for one of the three nominal opposition candidates permitted to run.

One Russian who gave her name as Alina said she had come with her husband without hope of her vote affecting the election’s outcome, but to show how many people shared her views.

“The voting is not the most important thing here,” she said.

Many of those queuing to vote said that they hope one day to return to their homeland in future, even as Putin is set to receive another six year term in office.

“I dream of returning to Russia,” said Olga Mutovina, a journalist from the Siberian city of Irkutsk.

“I dream of a Russia where there will be independent courts, where the press will work freely, where people will not be imprisoned for their opinions.”

(Reporting by Reuters in Yerevan; Writing by Felix Light in Tbilisi; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)