Putin attacks Ukraine as attacks spoil Russian presidential elections | Election news

Russians begin voting in a three-day election that will almost certainly give the president six more years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of trying to disrupt the presidential elections in his country by bombing Russian territory and using 2,500 soldiers to try to penetrate Russia's borders, and promised to punish Kiev for its actions.

Polling stations opened in 11 time zones in Russia on Friday to begin three days of voting, with Putin almost certain to secure a fifth presidential term since winning his first election in 2000 with dissent in the country almost completely stifled.

The shadow of the Ukrainian war fell on the elections with what Putin said was repeated bombing of western Russia and an attempt by Ukrainian agents to cross into Russian territory in two Russian regions.

“These enemy strikes will not remain unpunished,” a visibly angry Putin said at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, which includes military and intelligence chiefs, as well as the state’s most powerful civilian officials.

Putin said that four attacks on the Belgorod region and one on the Kursk region – both on the border with Ukraine – were launched by about 2,500 Ukrainian agents. He added that they had 35 tanks and 40 armored vehicles, and that 60 percent of the fighters were killed.

Ukrainian officials said earlier on Friday that Russian armed groups based in Ukraine and opposed to the Kremlin carried out the attacks in Belgorod and Kursk.

The first day of the election was also marred by disturbances that included dye being poured into ballot boxes, a Molotov cocktail thrown at a polling station in Putin's hometown, and reports of cyberattacks.

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At least nine people were arrested for sabotage at polling stations. There were two incidents in Moscow, where a woman filled a ballot box with ink and another woman at another polling station set fire to a booth.

Many people poured the green liquid into ballot boxes, in an apparent reference to the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was attacked in 2017 by an attacker who sprayed green disinfectant on his face.

The head of the Russian Electoral Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said that those who committed acts of sabotage face a prison sentence of up to five years, and indicated that they received money from people seeking to disrupt the vote.

Interactive - Russia Elections - Who's on the ballot

The other candidates are from parties friendly to the Kremlin: Nikolai Kharitonov from the Communist Party, Leonid Slutsky from the National Liberal Democratic Party, and Vladislav Davankov from the New People's Party.

Opposition politician Boris Nadezhdin tried to run against Putin on an anti-war list, but was banned from running after the Central Election Commission said irregularities were found in a list of his supporters' signatures.

Other potential opposition candidates who could have run against Putin are dead, imprisoned or living abroad.

Al Jazeera's Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, said that everyone she spoke to at the polling station she visited said they supported Putin.

“They say he is a man of the country, and they trust him and have known him for many years. They believe in his policies, both internally and externally,” she said.

“What is clear is that Putin will continue to reign again in power and tighten his grip.”

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Accessory areas

People in Russia's annexed regions of Ukraine – Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson – also participated in the presidential elections.

In the eastern Donetsk region, armed soldiers in full combat gear accompanied election officials as they set up mobile polling stations on small tables in the streets.

Attached Ukrainian regions

Ukraine condemned holding elections in the territories it annexed. In December, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on the international community to “impose sanctions on those involved in their organization and behavior.”

“Any elections in Russia have nothing to do with democracy. They only serve as a tool to keep the Russian regime in power,” the ministry said.

Olga Tokaryuk, a Chatham House OSUN academic fellow at the Ukraine Forum, said Ukrainians were not taking the elections “seriously.”

Real change in Russia will not come automatically with Putin removed from power; “This is only possible if Russia abandons its imperial ambitions and stops waging wars of conquest – which is not on the horizon,” Tokariuk told Al Jazeera.

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