The presidential elections in Russia, which began on March 15 and will continue until the 17th, see Vladimir Putin as the favorite, as the Kremlin hoped after huge investments in propaganda. The tension is evident, as seen in several videos documenting protests by Russian citizens. Indeed, several sensational actions have been verified, such as the burning of a voting booth and the use of ink to try to invalidate the ballots already cast. One video in particular sparked intense debate, the one where an armed soldier burst into the polling booths occupied by citizens determined to vote at the polling station. Is this electoral intimidation against those who do not express their preference for Vladimir Putin? A yessecond video would offer an alternative perspective, but doubts remain. In this article, we analyze the videos broadcast online and the different interpretations offered.

For those in a hurry

  • During the 2024 presidential elections in Russia, several acts of vandalism were recorded inside polling stations.
  • There are men in the polling stations whose mission is to ensure security, particularly in occupied regions, and to monitor what happened.
  • The video was shared, along with a photo, in a comment on the Russian social network VK.
  • The comment, along with the VK user, disappeared after the video was widely distributed on Telegram.
  • In the video, the armed soldier appears to enter the voting booths of a polling station, likely annoyed by the amount of time voters spent inside. From the filmed scenes, it appears that he is observing the ballot of one of the voters.
  • Another video is circulating from the same polling station where a man is arrested because he was probably armed. An event which could justify the intervention of the military in the cabins.
  • The location where the videos were taken is unknown.
  • According to Russian propaganda channels, it is a fake based on weak “evidence”.
  • The Telegram channel “Выборы, всем ЦЫК!”, which reports numerous episodes of complaints of alleged fraud, modified its message indicating that the video was not 100% verified.

Analyzes

These are the images that circulating onlinewhere several users and media claim that it could be an attempt to control the vote by Russian soldiers:

What we know about the video

In the video, we see an armed soldier burst into the voting booths of a polling station, just as people were voting. There are voices speaking in Russian, but no one provides the translation.

Two voices are heard. The first is that of a woman, who affirms that this practice is carried out throughout the day. The other voice is that of the armed soldier, who bursts into the voting booths, as if annoyed by the slowness of the voters: “So what? Okay…” In fact, as shown in the same images, the video shows a soldier looking towards the voter card, thus violating his rights.

Checks at polling stations

The exact location of the polling station is not known at this time. According to Russian media, in various regions – and in particular those in Ukraine occupied by Russia – men in uniform carry out various checks in the voting booths. Dogs are also used.

The second video and the arrest of a man

A second video is circulating where it is possible to recognize the same seat as the previous one, but from another angle. This time, a man is filmed and held on the ground and arrested by two soldiers, one of them probably the same protagonist of the interference in the voting booths.

In this video, a gun can be seen on the ground, which is then picked up by the soldier wearing the balaclava, keeping it away – by carrying it on his back – from the man who has just been arrested at the polling station . This would suggest that it was probably an attack by an opponent, or a man who would have presented himself at the polling station armed anyway and therefore considered suspicious in any way.

Who posted the video

Among the main broadcasters of the video showing the suspect entering the voting booths is the Russian Telegram channel “Выборы, всем ЦЫК!” where several media reports denouncing alleged fraud or suspicious activities during the elections in Russia are published. In an update to the post dated March 16, 2024, the admins state that they are not 100% sure of the origin of the video.

The post mentions a VK user named Lydia Skripnik, who first shared the video on the Russian social network in a post on the channel. Izvestia. The commentary, as well as Lydia's story, are no longer present. In the screenshot shared via Telegram, user Lydia Skripnik complained about the presence of armed people at a polling station, while another user responded that security checks had increased in some places.

In Lydia's comment there is also a photo, the same as the one identified on the site 2ch.life published in a post from March 16, 2024 where several users commented on the video.

How Russian propaganda is defended

On February 24, 2022, a site and Telegram channel of phantom Russian “fact-checkers” were opened, under the name “War against counterfeits”, under the pretext of countering fake news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In total anonymity and in a total lack of transparency, it was sponsored by Kremlin institutions. It was the channel's executives who orchestrated and disseminated the conspiracy theories about the Bucha massacre and the hoax accusing Marianna Vyshemirskaya, the pregnant victim of the Russian bombing at the Ukrainian hospital in Mariupol, of being an actress paid by Kiev (we talk about it here). According to the Russian propaganda channel Telegram, the two videos from the polling station are described as fake.

The creators of the conspiracy theories against Marianna (still present on the site today, although the girl is now an integral part of Kremlin propaganda), claim that the videos were filmed in Ukraine in a film studio. The alleged evidence would be the presence on the table of green folders, pens and staplers that would not be used in Russian polling stations. Even the existence of a polling station with this flooring shown in the video is called into question, yet many polling stations are located inside buildings (schools and others) where we find both tiled and parquet floors. In addition, it is claimed that the format of the cards does not correspond to the “A4 standard”.

Soldiers' uniforms are also being questioned, saying they do not show up to polling stations with bulletproof vests. However, several photos have shown the opposite since 2014, as we can see in this photo of a polling station in occupied Donbass:

The following photo, which depicts a soldier wearing a balaclava and jacket, is from November 2023 during a vote in occupied Donbass:

In the end, the administrators of the Telegram channel “War on Fakes” claim that such a scene would not be possible because – according to them – “in Russia, men are not arrested in public places.” This is not true, since the Russian media itself reports several citizen arrests. In the case reported below, Russian channel RusNews reports how a man was arrested for writing an insult against Putin on the ballot.

Conclusions

The 2024 Russian presidential elections are particularly closely followed due to various incidents of vandalism in polling stations, as a sign of protest against Vladimir Putin. Similar security measures, with camouflaged and armed men, are also present in the occupied territories and it is not surprising that other forms of control are necessary to ensure security at polling stations. Unlike other verified cases, the video of the soldier entering the voting booth is not geographically identifiable. The exact location of the polling station and the day on which the alleged episode of the arrest occurred, whether March 15 or 16, 2024, are unknown. Elements that make it difficult to verify the event. Russian propaganda, unlike other verified episodes, attempts to pass off the video as fake and fabricated by the Ukrainians, but the “evidence” provided is weak.

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