Foreign insurgency

Putin secured less than half the votes cast at overseas polling stations in last weekend’s presidential election

Foreign insurgency

People attend a protest against the Putin regime in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin on the last day of the presidential election on Sunday. Photo: EPA-EFE/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE

The number of people who voted for Vladimir Putin at foreign polling stations in last weekend’s presidential election decreased by 128,000 compared to that from the 2018 vote, Novaya Gazeta Europe has calculated. The total number of overseas voters also decreased by 90,000 over the same period.

Putin’s share of the vote fell most significantly in Serbia, which recorded a 72% decrease, followed by Montenegro (58%), Lithuania (56%), Argentina (54%) and Croatia (52%). His share of the vote decreased in 92 of the 144 foreign countries where it was possible to vote. Putin won less than 50% of the overseas vote in 42 countries, a sea change from 2018, when that didn’t happen anywhere.

In some cases, the change in the level of support for Putin may be due to a change in the number of voters. In Lithuania, for example, the number of people voting for Putin decreased by 3,600 compared to 2018, but the total number of voters decreased by almost the same amount — 3,700. However, in Serbia and Montenegro, the number of voters more than tripled, whereas the number of people voting for Putin more than halved.

Our analysis shows that Putin came in second or third at 42 foreign polling stations, 15% of the total.

By comparison, in both 2004 and 2018, Putin lost at a single overseas polling station, both times in Iran. In 2004, he came in a single vote behind Sergey Glazyev in Isfahan and in 2018, he came in second behind Pavel Grudinin in the city of Rasht.

In 2012, Putin was beaten to first place by another candidate in 44 of the 393 overseas polling stations, 12% of the total. In that election, 27% of overseas voters — 118,000 people — voted for another candidate.

This year, according to official data, 104,000 overseas voters voted for other candidates or spoiled their ballots — 28% of the total. A candidate other than Putin won more votes than the incumbent at 42 out of 288 polling stations.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at the weekend that an “unprecedented” number of Russians overseas — more than 380,000 — had voted in the 2024 presidential election, but that figure is actually significantly lower than the record number recorded in 2018, when over 474,000 Russians voted abroad.

However, this year the number of Russian polling stations overseas decreased by more than 100 — from 393 to 288 — due to multiple diplomatic missions closing after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This put increased pressure on the polling station that remained open this year.

The average number of voters using each overseas polling station climbed from 1,200 in 2018 to 1,300 in 2024. Due to the number of would-be voters, Russians stood in kilometre-long queues for hours, and polling stations in Armenia, Kazakhstan and France even extended their voting hours. Still, many people didn’t get to vote. More than 500 people in Berlin, and dozens in the Latvian capital, Riga, were prevented from doing so when voting ended on schedule.

In 2024, Putin’s main rival abroad was Vladislav Davankov, the New People party nominee. He came in first at all 42 “protesting” polling stations, the ones where Putin didn’t win. At nine polling stations, there were more spoiled ballots than votes for Putin, meaning he effectively took third place. This happened at polling stations in Austria, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Montenegro and the Czech Republic.

Spoiling ballots was one option for those wishing to cast a protest vote at this election. The number of “invalid” votes was similar to the number who voted “against all candidates” in 2004, an option that was removed from ballot papers in 2006.

According to official data, overseas support for Vladimir Putin fell from 85% in 2018 to 72% this year.

Independent media outlet IStories calculated that 46% of those who voted for Putin abroad did so either at polling stations at Russian overseas military bases or in unrecognised breakaway states such as Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or Russian client states such as Belarus and Syria. The total vote for Putin there came to 128,000.

Nor were overseas polling stations spared the voter fraud so widespread in Russia itself. Almost 40,000 Russians reportedly voted early in Cyprus, where Putin got 86% of the vote, while according to the exit poll conducted on voting days by the Vote Abroad movement, only about 6,000 people voted in person.

Activists from the Democratic Community of Russians in Cyprus calculated that each early voter could only have spent 30 seconds in the booth if the three polling stations open from 9 am to 6 pm from 1–7 March had received a constant stream of voters with booths in use at all times. The activists also calculated that the 36,870 early voters in Cyprus were equivalent to nearly 60% of all early voters in 41 countries, which seemed highly unlikely as Cyprus only had three polling stations open.

In 2018, only about 5,000 Russians voted in Cyprus, while turnout in the capital Nicosia jumped by a whopping 712% in 2024.

Turnout also increased abnormally at polling stations in Egypt — in Alexandria, voter numbers increased by 2,746% from 2018 — in Bangladesh, where in Dhaka turnout was 742% higher, and throughout Moldova, which saw a 649% rise. In all these polling stations, Putin received at least 70% of the votes. In Moldova, it was a record 97%.

Novaya Europe estimates that without the votes from these polling stations in Moldova and states and territories under Russian control, Putin would have received just 55% of the overseas vote.

Exit poll data provided by Vote Abroad also differs widely from Central Election Commission (CEC) results in some areas, as highlighted by the Ark Project, an initiative that helps Russians who have left the country due to their anti-war stance.

In Istanbul, the share of votes for Putin was 5% according to the exit poll and 44.8% according to the CEC, while the same figures in the Estonian capital Tallinn were 8% and 75.2%, respectively. Even when factoring in those unwilling to say who they had voted for, Putin’s exit poll and CEC results differ by at least 10% in almost all cities.

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