Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny predicted Russia’s 2024 election results will be falsified and pushed for voters to oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguing the country “no longer needs” the longtime leader.
“For Putin, the 2024 elections are a referendum to approve his actions, to approve the war,” Navalny said in an online statement, adding later, “Let’s disrupt his plans and make it happen so that no one on March 17 is interested in the rigged result, but that all of Russia saw and understood: the will of the majority is that Putin must leave.”
Navalny, who is currently imprisoned on charges of extremism, fraud and contempt of court, argued the more who oppose Putin, “the sooner Russia will become free.”
The Anti-Corruption Foundation founded by Navalny posted billboards on Thursday in multiple Russian cities as part of his initiative, The Associated Press reported.
Disguised as a New Year’s message to circumvent the Kremlin’s censorship rule, the billboards read “Russia” and “Happy New Year,” but included a website address and QR code that led to a site called “Russia without Putin,” where Navalny’s statement is on the home screen.
The AP was told the billboards were up for two days, but observed several being quickly removed on Thursday.
Navalny’s initiative comes after Russian lawmakers Thursday unanimously approved March 17 as the 2024 election date, signaling the beginning of what’s expected to be Putin’s run for a fifth term. He has not yet announced his intention to run for a fifth term but is largely expected to do so.
“In essence, this decision marks the start of the election campaign,” Valentina Matviyenko, the chamber’s Speaker, said, according to The Associated Press.
When asked if Putin has decided on pursuing reelection, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters to “be patient,” the AP noted.
Putin’s likely reelection bid in 2024 is widely expected to be successful, as critics and possible challengers of the Russian leader have often been jailed or moved abroad.
Navalny himself has been imprisoned at a maximum security penal colony off of Moscow since 2021, serving a nine-year sentence for fraud and contempt of court charges. Earlier this year, he was handed an additional 19-year sentence for extremism charges.
The opposition leader has repeatedly pushed his supporters to resist the Kremlin through activism or donating toward his organization. He’s called the charges against him politically motivated, with his supporters viewing his prison sentences as a way to silence his activism.
Putin has tightly controlled Russia for more than 20 years and could serve two additional six-year terms due to constitutional reforms he helped establish.
Prior to his rule, the Russian constitution allowed for presidents to serve just two successive terms of four years, Reuters reported. Amendments in 2008 lengthened the presidential term to six years and amendments in 2020 removed the rule that presidents couldn’t serve more than two terms, the news wire added.
Under these stipulations, Putin could remain in power until 2036. He has been in power since late 1999 and has already served for longer than any other Russian president since former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, Reuters said.
Despite Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine and failed rebellion by the late mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, independent pollsters found Putin’s approval ratings remain high, AP reported.
Updated at 3:54 pm.