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Navalnaya tells world not to recognize Putin as ‘legitimate’ leader

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has urged the international community to refuse to recognize President Vladimir Putin as a “legitimate” leader of the country after elections last weekend that have “no meaning.”

Talking to her supporters in a video message posted on social media on March 19, Navalnaya urged them to “not give up” in opposing Putin, who easily won the vote with more than 87 percent of the ballots in the absence of rival candidates after having any potential challenger jailed or barred from running.

“The result of this election has no meaning. Putin wants to show the world that he apparently has huge support,” Navalnaya said.

“These elections are over but nothing is finished. On the contrary, we should gather our strength and work harder than ever before,” she added.

Putin claimed a fifth presidential term with a landslide victory in a tightly controlled March 15-17 election, which has been condemned by the West as neither free nor fair, as he sought to prove overwhelming popular support for his full-scale invasion of Ukraine and increasingly repressive policies.

The 71-year old Putin — who has ruled as either president or prime minister since 2000 — is set to surpass Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s nearly 30-year reign by the end of his new term to become the longest-serving Russian leader in more than two centuries.

Independent election observers were barred from working at this year’s presidential election for the first time in post-Soviet history, experts said. Russian elections have been notorious for ballot stuffing and other irregularities.

In the video, Navalnaya praised those Russians who participated in the Noon Against Putin protest on March 17, which was organized by Navalny’s associates across Russia and in other countries.

“You are the winners of the event that the Kremlin positions as a vote. There were so many of you — brave, free, and fair people all around Russia, who came at Noon Against Putin to the polling stations. I am thankful to each and every one of you,” Navalnaya said.

“Putin wants to appear to the world as if he has enormous support. But you, those who came to the polling stations at 12 p.m., are more persuasive than any false percentages [of support for Putin],” Navalnaya emphasized, adding that although the election is over, “nothing has ended” regarding “the fight against the regime.”

“We proved that Putin is not our president,” Navalnaya said, adding “we will work so that nobody in the world recognizes Putin as a legitimate president, nobody sits with him at a negotiating table, so that they fight against Putin’s mafia like they fight against an organized criminal group, so that they understand that Putin is not Russia.”

Navalnaya, who is now living outside of Russia, vowed to continue her late husband’s fight for “a wonderful Russia of the future” after the outspoken Kremlin critic died on February 16 in one of Russia’s most notorious prisons in the Arctic.

Navalnaya and her husband’s associates, along with several Western governments, have blamed Putin for the Kremlin critic’s death, which occurred under mysterious circumstances while he was serving time in prison for what are widely believed to be trumped up charges.