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Russia's presidential election begins today. And, yes, Vladimir Putin will almost certainly win. But this is Russia. Nothing happens without some intrigue.


Now, Putin is widely expected to secure a fifth term in office, extending his hold on power through at least 2030, maybe longer. So do Russian voters really have a choice?

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes is on the line from Moscow. Good morning.


FADEL: So you were out at polling stations. What have you been seeing?

MAYNES: Yeah, I was out at a polling station at a school in central Moscow when voting got underway this morning. There was a small but steady trickle of voters, including Anastasia (ph) and Alexei (ph), both doctors who work in Russia's state hospital system. And when we spoke outside, I asked, I thought, the obvious question. Is Russian democracy healthy?

ANASTASIA: (Laughter, non-English language spoken).

ALEXEI: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: Anastasia, who you can hear there chuckling, says yes, it is. Alexei had a different take, that democracy doesn't exist anywhere. But either way, they said Russians' faith in President Putin was strong, and that's who they'd cast their ballots for.

FADEL: So it sounds like Putin is up by two votes, then.

MAYNES: Yeah, he's on his way. But of course it's early going. There are three full days of voting ahead. That's a first for presidential elections here. The government is also pushing new online voting in about a third of the country. Previously it had only been tested in Moscow. And this election is distinct for another reason. Russia's military is securing voting for people in areas of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed - in other words, the occupied territories. Now, the Central Election Commission here says all of these moves are designed to offer greater voter access. But Kremlin critics and, it must be said, independent election experts argue these moves open the door to potential vote rigging, or, if you look at Russia's recent history of elections, more vote rigging. The track record here isn't good.

FADEL: Yeah, but Putin is popular - at least polls tell us so - so why should anyone be surprised or even outraged if or more like when he wins?

MAYNES: Yeah, there's no question. You know, Putin has his supporters, particularly among older Russians, attracted to Putin's blend of Soviet nostalgia and nationalist conservatism. So Putin would no doubt do well. But would he do as well as these polls claim? You know, if you believe media reports that cite government leaks, the Kremlin has instructed regional governors and other state officials to secure a historic result for the president, one that shows the people are behind Putin not despite but because of his decision to invade Ukraine. Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for the Kremlin turned critic in exile, says this generated mandate is about maintaining Putin's legitimacy at home, even if there's a danger of overdoing it.

ABBAS GALLYAMOV: It's not enough just to produce the result. It's necessary to be convincing so that your result is believed.

FADEL: Now, there are other candidates, though, right?

MAYNES: Yeah. There are three members from various Duma factions in the parliament that are in the race, only they all basically support Putin's policies and don't seem particularly interested in competing. Meanwhile, those who are did not make it on the ballot. Two anti-war candidates were disqualified over supposed registration violations. And, of course, Putin's fiercest challenger, Alexei Navalny, died in a remote prison colony under circumstances that still aren't clear. And Navalny's allies certainly think his death or murder was timed to these elections. In fact, they're calling on people to honor Navalny's last known political wish to protest the vote by swarming the polling stations at noon on Sunday.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow, thank you for your reporting.

MAYNES: Thank you.


FADEL: In Haiti, there aren't many certainties in life, but chaos may be one of them. After all, this is a country that over the years has experienced coups, transitional governments, assassinations and gang violence.

MARTÍNEZ: But the turmoil of the last two weeks has reached new levels. There has been no leadership, no law and order in the capital and a dwindling supply of humanitarian aid. The country has been effectively cut off from the outside world, with armed gangs in control of most of Port-au-Prince.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta has managed to get across the border - no easy feat - and he's in Haiti's second city of Cap-Haitien. Hey, Eyder. Glad you were able to get in there.


FADEL: So what have you seen so far?

PERALTA: I mean, look, like happens in these situations, we've seen a lot of normal. Restaurants are open. People are out buying groceries. Here in Cap-Haitien, which used to be a tourist hub, there's music and dancing and people at bars. But it also doesn't take long to see the signs that something is wrong here. Fuel is running out. It's nearly twice as expensive as it used to be, and some towns up and down this northern coast are in complete darkness. They haven't had consistent electricity since this crisis started, and that means when President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in 2021.


PERALTA: And also as we were driving in, we ran into large groups of Haitians who were getting ready to try to run away from this place. They were about to try to cross the border into the Dominican Republic.

FADEL: Wow. So as you cross in, you see this group of people trying to escape. What are people...


FADEL: ...You're meeting telling you about the situation?

PERALTA: I mean, the people I've spoken to tell me that they're happy that in these parts of Haiti, at least, the gunfire has stopped. They say that before Prime Minister Ariel Henry promised to resign, they heard nonstop gunfire in the evening, and now some schools and some universities have reopened. But I've also heard a lot of desolation. Haitians feel abandoned. They feel that after their president was killed, no one was listening. And, you know, they don't just mean the international community. They mean their own government. I spoke to one man who used to work as a tourist guide, and now he's just trying to find any kind of work to keep food on his table. And he says what's happening in Haiti is not just criminal gangs revolting. He says this is an awakening. He said that Haitians have lived in poverty and neglect and misery for too long, and they're just fed up. And this is an uprising, he says.

FADEL: Wow. Now, the capital, Port-au-Prince, has effectively been under siege by gangs for the last two weeks. Is there any sign that the violence there is subsiding?

PERALTA: We thought it was, but yesterday was a very violent day in the capital. Gangs shot at the airport just as workers were trying to fix the damage that had been done during previous attacks. And local news reported that gangs had also looted the house of the director of the national police and then set it on fire. One of the prisons, which was already empty from an earlier prison break, was also set on fire. And this is absolutely, without a doubt, a political statement from the armed gangs in the country. This renewed violence is happening while different political parties and affiliations are trying to shape this transitional council that was proposed by the international community.

FADEL: Right.

PERALTA: And some prominent gang leaders have come out against this agreement, saying it doesn't represent the will of the Haitian people. And this violence seems to be the way they plan to oppose it.

FADEL: Now, the U.S. has finally appointed an ambassador to Haiti. What do we know about him?

PERALTA: So it's Dennis Hankins. And his nomination was approved by the Senate yesterday. And the important part is that this marks the first time the U.S. has had an ambassador in Haiti for nearly 2 1/2 years.

FADEL: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Cap-Haitien. Thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila.


FADEL: Leaders in Chicago once promised to welcome migrants seeking asylum. Now they're reversing course.

MARTÍNEZ: Thirty-seven thousand asylum-seekers have journeyed to the shores of Lake Michigan over the last two years. Along with several other cities in the U.S., Chicago says its shelters have reached capacity, so starting Saturday, the city will start evicting some migrants.

FADEL: Joining me now is NPR's immigration correspondent Jasmine Garsd. Good morning.


FADEL: So, Jasmine, why is this starting now?

GARSD: Well, you know, last fall, New York City told migrants they could stay for 30 to 60 days at shelters. And around that time, Chicago kind of positioned itself as a more welcoming city. Here's Mayor Brandon Johnson at a press conference five months ago.


BRANDON JOHNSON: The policies that are impacting population shifts around the globe is affecting us all. These are asylum-seekers. These are not illegal people.

GARSD: But this has already cost Chicago nearly $160 million, and the city says it can't handle it. So it enacted a similar policy to New York, a 60-day eviction rule, and that goes into effect Saturday. As many as 5,600 people could be told to leave.

FADEL: So quite a reversal there for the city. And it has to be a polarizing issue for people in Chicago. What's the response been like?

GARSD: Well, the decision has been divisive. Many in local government say despite its best intentions, months of sheltering people have warned Chicago's budget and patience thin. But there's a lot of opposition too. Alderman Andre Vasquez, chair of the city's Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, says the city can do better.

ANDRE VASQUEZ: So not only is it not the right way to go when we're thinking about the dignity everybody deserves in this situation, and we're talking about families with children in school. It also isn't being responsible for the taxpayer dollar 'cause it's going to lead to more costs down the line.

GARSD: He predicts it will lead to increased homelessness, more visits to the ER and cost Chicago more.

FADEL: So you mentioned that New York City enacted a similar policy last year. Has that been working?

GARSD: New York officials say as of December of last year, over 22,000 people were told it was time to leave the shelter. And about a quarter were able to stay in the system, but City Hall doesn't know a lot about what happens to people when they leave the shelters. I've been talking to migrants who are now sleeping in parks, streets, under bridges. These people are allowed to stay in the country for now, but they can't work legally.

FADEL: I mean, you can stay, but you can't work to support yourself.

GARSD: That's exactly right. When a migrant seeks asylum, the law says they can't get a work permit until five months after applying for that asylum. And mayors have brought this up to the White House and Congress as something that could alleviate the financial stress of caring for people.

FADEL: Yeah, but we've seen even immigration proposals with bipartisan support seem to go nowhere in Washington. So is there any sign that conditions on the ground in these cities might change?

GARSD: Not really. This all started two years ago with the surge of migrants at the border. Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott started busing migrants to cities like New York, Chicago, Denver. And Abbott has pledged to continue sending migrants north, he says, as a way to get the Biden administration to ramp up border enforcement. So this is going to continue.

FADEL: NPR's immigration correspondent Jasmine Garsd, thank you so much.

GARSD: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.