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Russian Pollster to Skip Presidential Vote Amid Kremlin Squeeze

People pass by a billboard with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin with lettering "Strong president - Strong Russia" in Saint Petersburg on Jan. 12, 2018. 

People pass by a billboard with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin with lettering "Strong president - Strong Russia" in Saint Petersburg on Jan. 12, 2018. 

Photographer: Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s main independent pollster said it has stopped publishing surveys related to the March presidential election for fear of legal problems under a Kremlin-backed law that designated the group a “foreign agent.”

“They simply want to shut our mouth,” Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, said in a telephone interview. The group’s surveys had shown likely turnout in the March 18 contest at about 52-54 percent, far below the levels reported by the two other main polling companies, both of which are controlled by the government. All three show 70-plus percent support for President Vladimir Putin, but low voter participation could undermine Kremlin hopes of winning a resounding mandate in the vote.