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Russia 2018: Kremlin Countdown

A tip sheet on Russia's March 18 presidential election delivering RFE/RL and Current Time TV news, videos, and analysis along with links to what our Russia team is watching. Compiled by RFE/RL correspondents and editors.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

Dead No More

The Central Election Commission has reportedly instructed local election officials in a town outside of Moscow to relocate a polling station that had been set to open in the local funeral home.

"Colleagues, think about it," commission head Ella Pamfilova said on March 7. "Please, turn on not only your heads but your hearts as well. I hope that you will move this polling station and find a more dignified location."

A photograph of the planned polling station made something of a splash on social media, with commentators speculating that there must be no schools or libraries or clinics in the town of Kurovskoye.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

SMS Call To Action

For days now, Muscovites and other Russians have been reporting an avalanche of SMS messages urging them register to vote at a convenient polling station if they are away from the location where they are registered.

Moscow-based journalist Matthew Bodner, an American who is not eligible to vote, posted a copy of one such message on his Twitter account on March 6.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

Grudinin Apologizes To Sobchak For Zhirinovsky

Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin returned briefly to the official, televised debate circuit on March 7, but he didn't intend to debate.

"I am absolutely convinced that this is not a debate," he said in his opening remarks. "So I am not going to participate."

Instead, he congratulated all Russian women ahead of the March 8 International Women's Day holiday, saying that Russian women are what the country should be most proud of.

Then he turned to journalist and presidential rival Ksenia Sobchak, the only woman among the eight candidates running in the March 18 election. He noted that Sobchak had been insulted during a previous debate by nationalist candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who called her a "whore" and a "prostitute," and said that Zhirinovsky had not apologized for his behavior. So Grudinin took it upon himself to apologize for Zhirinovsky, presenting Sobchak a bouquet of flowers before quitting the stage.

Zhirinovsky spoke immediately after Grudinin but did not appear to depart from his prepared remarks. He launched immediately and incongruously into a critique of the Russian health-care system.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

Siberian Students Balk At Efforts To Make Them Vote

Students at a medical university in Novosibirsk are complaining that they are being compelled to vote in the March 18 presidential election, according to the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL's Russia Service and Current Time TV, citing a report.

Students living in dormitories say they are being forced to apply for permission to vote on campus, adding that a deputy rector of the university's dental school would personally go over the lists of those who applied.

The Central Election Commission announced on March 3 that the number of people who have applied to vote in places other than where they are registered has reached more than 1.7 million. "That is a record," said commission member Nikolai Bulayev.

The Kremlin is said to be concerned that low voter turnout could undermine the election. Barred opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has dismissed the process as "the reappointment of Vladimir Putin" and urged voters to boycott. In response, local and national authorities have initiated numerous efforts aimed at boosting turnout.

16x9 Image Andy Heil

Ukraine FM Calls Sobchak Crimea Request 'Schizophrenic'

Kyiv's top diplomat has responded to reports (from Sobchak herself and, e.g., UNIAN and Interfax) that candidate Sobchak has asked the Ukrainian Embassy for approval to campaign in Crimea.

"Everyone is asking me about Sobchak and occupied Crimea, because there are no other themes. Complying with Ukrainian law to enter occupied Crimea is a positive [thing], of course," Pavlo Klimkin tweeted late on March 6. "But legal entry to conduct illegitimate campaigning in illegitimate elections on occupied territory -- that’s definitely schizophrenia. Politically, of course."

Some reports suggested the embassy had not yet received such a request from Sobchak.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

Sobchak Asks Kyiv For Permission To Visit Crimea

Candidate Ksenia Sobchak has applied to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow for permission to visit the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea to campaign there, Ukraine's UNIAN news agency reported, citing embassy sources.

"If I go to Crimea, it will only be through Ukrainian territory," Sobchak said on Ekho Moskvy on March 6.

Ukraine has protested to Moscow and the international community against the March 18 presidential election being held in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Among the eight presidential candidates, only Sobchak and Grigory Yavlinsky have denounced the annexation as illegal. Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin has lauded the annexation and added that he would invite the eastern Ukrainian areas where Russia-backed separatists are fighting against Kyiv to join Russia as well.

The authorities in 2017 moved the date of the presidential election from March 11 to March 18, which marks the fourth anniversary of Putin signing the agreements that made the Crimea annexation official.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

Ready To Break Out The Champagne

The website is reporting that the Kremlin has plans for a gala celebration of the reelection of President Putin on the evening of March 18 on Moscow's central Manezh Square.

Znak cited three unnamed source in the Kremlin for its report.

A similar celebration was held on election night in 2012 at the same location. Huge video screens were set up, and both the victorious Putin and his one-term predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, appeared to wave at the crowd. The event is noted for the fact that Putin was shown shedding a tear of emotion.

Znak cited political scientist Abbas Gallyamov as saying: "Crowds of celebrating supporters are an important emotional support of any election campaign.... In a country where many people are convinced that the elections are falsified and that the winners are illegitimate, demonstrations of celebrating supporters are seen as the only way of convincing the doubters."

The Shoo-In

This is the second in a series of video primers on the Russian presidential election.

The Shoo-In looks at how Vladimir Putin’s reelection is a foregone conclusion but the Kremlin reportedly wants a high turnout as a badge of his broad support.

Russian Elections 101: The Shoo-In
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The first installment of our video explainers was on The Watchdogs.

16x9 Image Robert Coalson

Sobchak Calls For Better Debates

Candidate Ksenia Sobchak has called the official election debates "a profanation" and has urged candidates to organize their own, independent encounters.

Sobchak said she had asked the Central Election Commission to change the format of the official debates from a roundtable in which all seven candidates challenging President Putin (who is not participating in debates) participate in a series of one-on-one discussions. She said that four candidates -- Boris Titov, Maksim Suraikin, Grigory Yavlinsky, and Sergei Baburin -- had rejected the idea and urged the commission to keep the existing format.

In a statement on her website, Sobchak proposed holding independent debates on March 8, 9, and 10, inviting all mass media registered by the election commission to film the debates live and to participate in organizing them.

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