Vladimir Putin just won his fifth term as Russian president, though the 87% landslide election victory has been labeled preordained, stage-managed and a farce.

Vladimir Putin just won his fifth term as Russian president, though the 87% landslide election victory has been labeled preordained, stage-managed and a farce.

Now, exiled opposition leader Mark Feygin is leading an effort to give Russians an anonymous, blockchain-powered way to register a “protest vote” against Putin.

The results of this effort would, of course, have no legal weight in Russia and would not end Putin’s presidency per se, but the referendum could, in theory, give a public relations boost to efforts to oust him. And it gives Russians a way to voice criticism in a nation where the consequences of dissent can be high; opposition leader Alexei Navalny recently died while jailed in an Arctic penal colony.

The vote will be conducted on an app called Russia2024, built using Rarimo’s Freedom Tool, which will use the Arbitrum blockchain and zero-knowledge cryptography, making voters’ identities untraceable.

“Dissent in Russia is growing more risky and public opinion harder to track,” Feygin said in a statement. He was exiled from Russia years ago, termed a foreign agent in 2022 and remains a wanted person in Russia. He is a former lawyer for the founders of the protest collective Pussy Riot. “It is critical that we provide reliable, surveillance-proof avenues for protest and polling. Russia2024 and its underlying technology has enabled that,” he added.

Only holders of Russian passports will be able to cast their vote. Around 34.6 million Russians have a valid passport.

Users will need to download the Russia2024 app and prove their citizenship by scanning their passports with their phones. The passports have a biometric chip that the tool uses to confirm the voter’s identity and facilitate an anonymous vote. If a person doesn’t own a smartphone, a single phone can be used as a shared voting machine.

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Voting will be allowed for about two weeks, and the backers behind the tool are “sure” it is a secure way to vote and that voters don’t need to fear repercussions.

“Even after Navalny’s death, people came out and protested so they will vote as a countermeasure to the result,” said Freedom Tool co-founder Lasha Antadzem, who has previously collaborated with the Ukrainian government to digitize the privatization of state properties. “Decentralized voting and the Freedom Tool is designed such that there is no single entity to attack, block or get rid of. You can’t hack it just like you can’t hack bitcoin.”

In the shadow of the war with Ukraine

Antadzem also holds passports from Ukraine and Georgia. Putin’s victory is expected to give him the means to continue his war against Ukraine.

“We are handing out the open-source technology to everyone. It’s not only Ukrainians or Georgians building,” Antadzem said when asked about the possible perception that this is backed by Ukrainian interests. “We got a lot of contributions through anonymous letters from cryptography professors within Russia. It’s a kind of wartime defense technology.”

Antadzem, who spoke to CoinDesk from London, said the Russia2024 app was removed from the Apple app store initially, but they expect it to be back online this Friday. The app is available on Google’s app store.

Referendums have been used for different reasons across the world: for signaling dissent in Canada, to pass specific policy in Switzerland and to choose whether a region wants to stay united with a nation or not in the U.K.

The main global “real world use case” is that it “can guarantee that authenticity,” it can “cut the cost” of any election-related voting exercise by “10 times” and the technology can be used by other nations, too, Antadzem said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over a pared-back Victory Day parade Thursday, showcasing his country’s unity and resolve to continue the war on Ukraine. But the martial celebrations also obscured simmering tensions inside the Kremlin and within Russian society.

At first glance, this year’s parade in Red Square was the usual well-choreographed display of military might: Over 9,000 military personnel took part, including a thousand currently serving in what Russia still calls the “special military operation” — the official euphemism for the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The mechanized column was led by a World War II-era T-34 tank, a symbol of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

May 9 is more than a day for commemorating the over 25 million Soviet soldiers and civilians who died during World War II.

Under Putin, the Russian state has elevated collective remembrance of the war to something resembling a secular religion. It’s a day of high solemnity: in recent years, Russians have taken part in “Immortal Regiment” marches, carrying pictures of family members who served in the war. Putin — who has made “patriotic education” a priority — traditionally lays flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And as in years past, Putin cast the war in Ukraine today as a continuation of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, making the mendacious claim that Russia is battling “neo-Nazism” in Ukraine. And while the war in Ukraine seems to be going better for Russia than one year ago, Putin still called for Russians to make more wartime sacrifice.

“Russia is now going through a difficult, transitional period,” he said in a speech before the parade.

“The fate of the motherland, its future depends on each of us … We celebrate Victory Day in the context of the special military operation. All its participants — those who are on the front line, on the line of combat contact — are our heroes. We bow to your perseverance and self-sacrifice, dedication. All of Russia is with you!”

But this year’s Victory Day is also happening against the background of a bribery scandal roiling Russia’s Ministry of Defense.

Last month, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov was caught in a corruption probe, arrested on suspicion of accepting a bribe of “an especially large size.” The scandal widened with the arrest of two Russian businessmen on suspicion of involvement in the bribe.

Ivanov has denied involvement in bribery and is willing to give detailed testimony to prove his innocence, according to Russian state news agency TASS. And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Ivanov’s boss before his ouster from his ministerial post, played his usual role in this year’s Victory Day parade, reviewing the troops and reporting to Putin before the president’s speech.

Kremlinologists can draw few conclusions from Shoigu’s performance on May 9. But the arrest of Shoigu’s protégé has led to speculation about infighting at the highest echelons of power and cast an uncomfortable spotlight on what observers see as a culture of rampant graft inside the Russian military.

As the Russian defense ministry’s construction boss, Ivanov was responsible for overseeing projects such as the rebuilding of the shattered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which was obliterated by Russian forces in 2022.

The reconstruction of showcase apartment blocks in Mariupol has been a fixture of Russian government propaganda: Putin famously paid a visit to the occupied city last spring as part of a PR campaign.

But a visual investigation by the Financial Times pointed to shoddy workmanship in Mariupol, underscoring speculation that the reconstruction funds were being siphoned off by Russian companies that had won government construction contracts.

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Ivanov is under US and EU sanction for his role in the war on Ukraine. But the lavish lifestyle of his ex-partner — who has an upscale Parisian address and enjoys the slopes at Courchevel — has been extensively scrutinized by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), the investigative outfit founded by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who died in a Russian prison north of the Arctic Circle earlier this year.

Russia’s political opposition –— which under Putin has largely been sidelined, marginalized or chased into exile — is still reeling from the death of Navalny.

But Navalny’s investigative foundation has pressed ahead with its relentless focus on corruption in Putin’s Russia.

In recent weeks, ACF chief investigator Maria Pevchikh has managed to dominate much of the Russia conversation online with the release of a documentary series called “The Traitors,” which traces the origins of Putin against the background of the political and economic free-for-all in the Russia of the 1990s. Corruption, goes the argument, is the original sin of modern-day Russia.

But that’s not the message Putin is projecting on Victory Day.

Despite the heavy losses of men and equipment on the battlefield in Ukraine, defense spending has buoyed the Russian economy. Putin’s technocrats have deftly managed the economy amid international sanctions, returning the country to GDP growth.

But Russia’s economy remains famously inefficient and corrupt. Prestige projects — such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics — have long been marred by allegations of corruption and favoritism, especially when it comes to the award of contracts. And the living standards of ordinary Russians are a secondary consideration in Putin’s wartime economy.

Viewed through that lens, this year’s Victory Day in Moscow was more of a feel-good exercise, presenting contemporary Russia as the opposite of the ’90s: proud, militarily strong, pressing inexorably forward. And Putin, after a quarter century in power, presided over the whole affair with the same rhetoric of patriotism, sacrifice and love of Motherland.

In Russia, continuity has a quality of its own.