Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

France says Russian election took place in a ‘context of increasing repression’

A general view of the Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) Headquarters in Moscow, Russia on March 17, 2024. Putin won Russian presidential election with 87.97% of the vote, first official results showed

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

Russia’s presidential elections took place in a “context of increasing repression of the civil society and any type of opposition against the regime,” the French foreign ministry said Monday, according to a CNBC translation.

The French institution noted “ever-increasingly strong restrictions on freedom of expression” and interdictions against independent media coverage in Russia. The French foreign ministry also condemned “so-called” elections held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, whose results it said Paris refuses to recognize.

Vladimir Putin swept through the election to clinch another six-year term, following polls held over March 15-17. He faced nominal opposition and was widely expected to win.

“Political opponent Alexei Navalny died several weeks before this election, notably after the tightening of his detention conditions by Russian authorities. Candidates opposed to the war in Ukraine were not admitted to run in the election, significantly reducing its [the election’s] pluralistic character,” the foreign ministry added.

Ruxandra Iordache

China’s Xi congratulates Putin on presidential win

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a meeting in Beijing on October 18, 2023.

Sergei Guneyev | Afp | Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called to congratulate his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on his re-election at the helm of the Kremlin, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said in a Google-translated report.

During a press briefing after clinching his victory, Putin praised the state of Moscow’s relationship with Beijing as “very stable and highly complementary,” following years of development, according to a separate Google-translated Xinhua report.

China and Russia have tightened their bonds amid increasing isolation from Western countries, with Beijing providing a rare outlet for Europe and U.S.-sanctioned seaborne barrels of Moscow’s crude and oil products. The two are also allied in the BRICS coalition of emerging markets.

European officials have repeatedly entreated Xi to leverage his diplomatic sway with Putin and intercede in favor of resolving the war in Ukraine. China presented a 12-point peace plan for the conflict on the occasion of the first-year anniversary of Russia’s full invasion — but the framework has yet to gain traction.

Beijing’s relationship with Moscow has increasingly raised ire in the White House, with U.S. officials signaling to CNBC in February that Washington is considering slapping sanctions on Chinese companies that assist in Moscow’s war.

Ruxandra Iordache

Thousands of Navalny supporters protest against Putin in Russian election

Thousands of supporters of dead Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny staged protests in various cities in Russia and at Russian embassies overseas to express their rejection of the widely expected reelection of President Vladimir Putin.

As part of the demonstrations, called “Noon against Putin,” supporters of Navalny went to their polling stations and cast votes either with spoiled ballots or a vote for one of the three candidates running against Putin. Proponents of the movement called it peaceful and symbolic. Putin was declared the winner with 87.97% of the vote.

Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya called on global leaders not to recognize the election results, while several Western leaders have called the contest a sham.

Navalny, Russia’s best-known opposition politician, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony in late February while serving a combined prison sentence of 19 years. His team and family allege that the Kremlin murdered him, an allegation the Kremlin has forcefully rejected.

— Natasha Turak

Putin wins election in landslide; Western leaders criticize ‘illegitimate’ victory

In this pool photograph distributed by Russia’s state agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a videoconference ceremonies to launch the construction of Unit 7 at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant and a high-speed railway line between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on March 14, 2024. 

Mikhail Metzel | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin won his fifth term in the country’s general election over the weekend with 87.97% of the vote, according to Russia’s election authorities, in a contest that had no real rivals and that Western leaders are slamming as “illegitimate” and “illegal.”

Russia’s elections were characterized by “a lack of choice for voters and no independent OSCE monitoring,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron wrote in a tweet, saying that the elections held in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine were “illegal.” He added that “this is not what free and fair elections look like.”

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky called the contest a “farce and parody,” saying, “This was the Russian presidential election that showed how this regime suppresses civil society, independent media, opposition.”

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said the “elections were neither free nor fair.”

Russia’s top opposition and anti-war figures were either barred from running, in prison, or dead.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine says it downed 17 of 22 drones in overnight attack

The Ukrainian Air Force said it has downed 17 of 22 Russia-launched drones in an overnight attack across nine regions.

Moscow deployed Iran-make Shahed unmanned missiles at the Kyiv, Poltava, Khmelnytskyi, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsia, Zaporizhzhya, and Rivne areas, the air force reported in a Google-translated update on Telegram.

In a separate Google-translated Telegram post, the air force warned of missile and ballistic weapons danger in the northeastern region of Kharkiv. Around 15 settlements in the area were struck by enemy shelling on March 18, said Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, in a Google-translated post. He added that six people were injured as a result of the offensive.

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

Ruxandra Iordache

G7 warns Iran not to support Russia with ballistic missiles

G7 leaders on Friday urged Iran not to send ballistic missiles to Russia.

“We are extremely concerned about reports that Iran is considering transferring ballistic missiles and related technology to Russia after having supplied the Russian regime with UAVs, which are used in relentless attacks against the civilian population in Ukraine,” the statement said.

The G7 called on Iran not to deliver missiles, and said there would be consequences if they did.

“Were Iran to proceed with providing ballistic missiles or related technology to Russia, we are prepared to respond swiftly and in a coordinated manner including with new and significant measures against Iran,” the statement said.

A senior official in the U.S. administration said the country had not yet seen confirmation that missiles have moved from Iran to Russia, but noted that negotiations between the countries have been advancing.

The official reiterated that measures would be taken against Iran if it supplied Russia with missiles, including a potential ban of flights by state-owned Iran Air into Europe.

— Sophie Kiderlin

UN accuses Russia of systematic torture of Ukraine POWs

A new report from a U.N. commission of inquiry on Ukraine, published Friday, said it had found further evidence of systemic torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war by Russian forces.

“The Commission has found new evidence that Russian authorities have committed violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and corresponding war crimes, in areas that came under their control in Ukraine,” the summary stated.

The three-member panel said Russia had shown a “disregard for basic principles of humanitarian laws and of human rights obligations,” and said the evidence confirmed the necessity of further investigation to establish whether Moscow is guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

It highlighted new evidence of “widespread and systemic” torture used by Russian authorities against Ukrainian prisoners of war in several detention facilities across the country.

“The report documents incidents of rape and other sexual violence committed against women in circumstances which also amount to torture. It also details incidents of torture with a sexualised dimension and threats of rape against male prisoners of war,” the commission stated.

The commission’s report has been submitted to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which will determine whether the commission’s mandate should be renewed for another year to continue its investigative work.

Russia has denied torture and other forms of mistreatment of POWs.

– Elliot Smith

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