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Putin suffers setbacks after voters turn against his ruling party


President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party has retained its control in regional elections - but the opposition has made gains in some areas in a challenge to the Russian president.

Voters in dozens of regions cast their votes on Sunday to elect regional governors, members of provincial governments and city councils.

They come weeks after the Kremlin's most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned with Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

The elections were an important test for his supporters, who were campaigning to win seats in several regional legislatures.

In the city of Novosibirsk, which Mr Navalny visited days before falling ill on August 20, the head of his regional headquarters, Sergei Boiko, won a seat in the city council.

The main Kremlin party, United Russia, which Mr Navalny has contemptuously dubbed a "party of crooks and thieves", lost its majority, according to the preliminary returns.

In Tomsk, the Siberian city Mr Navalny was leaving when he collapsed on the plane to Moscow, his representative Ksenia Fadeyeva also secured a city council seat.

She thanked voters for their support, tweeting "it was important to win after what happened".

"Navalny was poisoned in Tomsk, and this is the best counter-blow from our headquarters," associate Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter.

In many regional races, Mr Navalny's supporters have pushed a "smart voting" strategy, urging voters to support the candidates who have the best chance of defeating United Russia, irrespective of their political affiliation.

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That approach seemed to work in some of the races, with candidates for the Communist Party, socialist-­oriented Just Russia and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party posting gains.

The regional elections were a key test for the Kremlin after the July 1 constitutional vote that could allow Mr Putin to stay in power until 2036.

His popularity reached a peak after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea but dwindled steadily in the following years under the impact of economic woes and the government's unpopular decision to raise the retirement age.

Plummeting incomes and rising unemployment during the coronavirus outbreak further dented his approval ratings.

In a challenge to the Kremlin, residents of the city of Khabarovsk on the border with China have staged regular protests for two months against the arrest of the local governor Sergei Furgal.

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