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In Putin’s Russia, the parade comes before the election. Photo: Sergey Pyatakov/Host Photo Agency via Getty

Russians began voting Thursday on the most significant package of constitutional changes since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Why it matters: The most significant of all is the clearing of President Vladimir Putin's term limits to allow him to remain in power until 2036.

Setting the scene: The referendum was postponed from April due to the pandemic and comes on the heels of a massive military parade to mark the anniversary of victory in World War II.

  • Voting will be spread over a week and include precautions to limit the spread of the virus.
  • The proposal would also enshrine social conservatism — "faith in god," opposition to gay marriage — into the constitution.
  • It would also give parliament new powers, including to appoint the prime minister, "while giving the president a greater say over the work of courts and prosecutors," per the WSJ.

Where things stand: Putin has been criticized for his hands-off approach to coronavirus, but his proposal is nonetheless expected to pass.

  • A recent Levada Center poll shows 44% in favor and 32% opposed — but 55% of those certain to turn out plan to vote in favor.
  • Opposition leaders including Alexei Navalny are calling for a boycott. The Kremlin is offering incentives to boost turnout.

What to watch: The Levada Center's tracking poll puts Putin's approval rating at 59%, his lowest mark since Sep. 1999, 3 months before he became president.

Go deeper

Sep 23, 2020 - World

H.R. McMaster: Trump "making it easy" for Putin on U.S. election misinformation

Former National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster in Washington, D.C., in 2018. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

H.R. McMaster told CNN Tuesday evening President Trump and other U.S. leaders are "making it easy" for Russian President Vladimir Putin to peddle conspiracy theories on the U.S. election and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

What he's saying: "It's just wrong ... it's really important for leaders to be responsible about this because, really, as you know Putin doesn't create these divisions in our society, he doesn't create these doubts, he magnifies them," Trump's former national security adviser told CNN's Jake Tapper.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.