Wave Of Drones Target Russia On Final Day Of Voting

AFP ------- Russia said it was targeted by a wave of Ukrainian drones on Sunday, as thousands headed to the polls for a final day of elections set to extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Queues of people were also seen forming outside polling stations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg at noon, when Russia’s opposition called for people to collectively spoil their ballots or vote against Putin.
The three-day vote had already been marred by a surge in fatal Ukrainian bombardment, incursions into Russian territory by pro-Kyiv sabotage groups and vandalism at polling stations.
Ukrainian drones attacked at least eight Russian regions overnight and on Sunday morning, with some reaching as far as the Moscow region, the defence ministry said.
Three airports serving the capital briefly suspended operations following the barrage, while a drone attack in the south sparked a fire at an oil refinery.
In the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, where voting is also taking place, “kamikaze drones” set a polling station ablaze, according to Moscow-installed authorities.
The defence ministry said it had “intercepted and destroyed 35 unmanned aerial vehicles” across the country.

Last ‘legal’ protest
There were repeated acts of protest in the first days of polling, with a spate of arrests of Russians accused of pouring dye into ballot boxes or arson attacks.
Before his death in an Arctic prison last month, opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Russians to collectively vote at noon in a protest the opposition dubbed “Midday Against Putin”.
AFP reporters saw an increase in people queuing outside polling stations at midday (0900 GMT) in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
“This is the last kind of protest action through which you can legally express yourself. It’s safe,” 29-year-old IT worker Alexander told AFP.
He voted around noon at a polling station in Maryino, a district of Moscow where Navalny used to cast his ballot.
“If I didn’t do it, I’d feel like a coward,” he said.
Elena, 52, who also voted around noon, doubted the demonstration would have much of an impact.
“Honestly, I don’t think it will show anything,” she told AFP.
Any public dissent in Russia has been harshly punished since the start of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and there have been repeated warnings from the authorities against election protests.

‘Difficult period’
The 71-year-old Putin, a former KGB agent, has been in power since the last day of 1999 and is set to extend his grip over the country until at least 2030.
If he completes another Kremlin term, he will have stayed in power longer than any Russian leader since Catherine the Great in the 18th century.
He is running without any real opponents, having barred two candidates who opposed the conflict in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has cast the election as an opportunity for Russians to show they are behind the assault on Ukraine, where voting is also being staged in Russian-held areas.
In a pre-election address on Thursday, Putin said Russia was going through a “difficult period”.
“We need to continue to be united and self-confident,” he said, describing the election as a way for Russians to demonstrate their “patriotic feelings”.
The voting will wrap up in Kaliningrad, Russia’s western-most time zone, at 1800 GMT and an exit poll is expected to be announced shortly after that.
A concert on Red Square is being staged on Monday to mark 10 years since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula — an event that is also expected to serve as a victory celebration for Putin.

‘No validity’
Ukraine has repeatedly denounced the elections as illegitimate and a “farce”, and urged Western allies not to recognise the result.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, as well as more than 50 member states, have slammed Moscow for holding the vote in parts of Ukraine.
Guterres said the “attempted illegal annexation” of those regions has “no validity” under international law.
Ahead of the election, Russian state media have played up recent gains on the front and portrayed the conflict as a fight for survival against attacks from the West.
Moscow has also sought to press its advantage on the front line as divisions over Western military support for Ukraine have led to ammunition shortages, although Kyiv says it has managed to stop the Russian advance for now.
In Ukraine, a Russian missile strike on the Black Sea port city of Odesa on Friday killed 21 people including rescue workers responding to an initial hit — an attack President Volodymyr Zelensky described as “vile”.
In Russia’s border city of Belgorod, Ukrainian shelling killed a 16-year-old girl and wounded her father, the region’s governor said Sunday.
The governor has ordered the closure of shopping centres and schools in Belgorod and the surrounding area for two days because of the strikes.