Martial law in four partially occupied regions of Ukraine was introduced by decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin on 20 October 2022, less than a month after they were incorporated into Russia.
In May this year, Putin signed a law allowing elections to be held in the territories where the martial law regime is in force. Previously, Russian law prohibited election campaigns and referendums in such conditions.
Early voting in “elections” in Luhansk and Kherson regions began on the second of September, a week before the Unified Voting Day in the Russian Federation. In Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya oblasts even earlier – on 31 August. Early voting, as explained by the Russian authorities, was organised for voters “located in hard-to-reach areas and settlements near the line of contact”.
‘Elections’ with differences
The “elections” conducted by the Kremlin in the occupied territories have a number of peculiarities.
In particular, from the first to the fourth of September, voting took place at extraterritorial polling stations, that is, outside the annexed regions, in Russia. For this purpose, more than 300 such polling places were organised in the constituent entities of the Russian Federation.
In addition, residents of the four occupied Ukrainian regions will not elect their own regional heads of state. They will be appointed by the deputies of local “parliaments” on the recommendation of Russian President Putin. Experts predict that all the current “interim” leaders put in place by the Kremlin will remain in place. All of them are members of the ruling party, United Russia.
It is also noted that only parliamentary parties (represented in the State Duma of the Russian Federation) take part in the “elections” to local authorities. Voting is conducted only on party lists, it is impossible to vote for a particular candidate. The “election commissions” of the annexed territories did not even intend to publish the names of candidates, explaining this by “physical security considerations”.
Russian independent journalists recall that this is how the first municipal elections in annexed Crimea were held in 2014.
They found out that more than half of the candidates in these “elections” were local residents (in Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions, 71 per cent), with a third of the candidates in Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions being housewives, pensioners, students or unemployed.
Kyiv: Participation in ‘elections’ is collaborationism
Ukraine regards active participation in Russian “elections” in the occupied territories as a manifestation of collaboration and treason. “Candidates” and “members of election commissions” face criminal prosecution.
The Security Service of Ukraine has already launched criminal proceedings against several individuals in the Luhansk region who were involved in organising the “elections”.
Their names have been published in the Ukrainian media.
“The Geneva Conventions, in which Russia is also formally participating, prohibit the holding of any elections by the aggressor in the occupied territories. For us, these elections do not exist. And for the entire international community too._This is a propaganda show,” Oleksiy Garan, a professor of political science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, told Euronews.
The Ukrainian authorities do not plan to punish people for voting in the pseudo-elections organised by Moscow. Kiev understands that the Kremlin demands to ensure maximum turnout by any means. During early voting, election commission officials went door-to-door accompanied by Russian military personnel.
“We are differentiating here. Many Ukrainian citizens found themselves in the occupied territory not of their own free will. Terror methods, repressions are being used against them. If we are talking about ordinary people who have to go to vote because otherwise there will be repression against them, there will be no action here. Criminal prosecution awaits the collaborators,” Garany said.
The European Union and the United States said that the “elections” held by Moscow in the occupied Ukrainian territories are “another gross violation of international law.”
“Russia has started early voting in the so-called “elections” in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories. This is yet another violation of international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty,” EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano wrote on social network X (formerly Twitter).
The US State Department called the vote in the occupied territories a “pseudo-election” and a “propaganda exercise”, noting that the United States would never recognise Russia’s claim to Ukrainian territories.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that people who support the vote could face sanctions and visa restrictions. We are talking, in particular, about so-called “international observers”.
Blinken stressed that the US will not recognise the results of these “elections” and will continue to support Ukraine.
“This is not an election, but a dog circus.”
The Russian authorities are holding the unified voting day this year on 10 September, although as noted above, early “expression of will” began much earlier.
Golos, an all-Russian public movement in defence of voters’ rights, notes that the 2023 election campaign took place under conditions of “constant and growing pressure on all participants in the electoral process.”
“Golos” believed that this year’s elections cannot be called equal and free in any of Russia’s regions.
Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin reminded that elections in Russia have long ceased to serve as a mechanism for changing power.
“In general, elections in Putin’s Russia are a ritualistic procedure. Their meaning comes down to three main aspects,” he said.
“The first is propaganda when it is necessary to demonstrate that the situation is under control and there is nationwide mass support. The second is the ritual meaning.
“For a significant part of Putin’s electorate, it is important to get a picture that everything is working, that since the elections were held, everything is according to the rules.
“And the third is a test. A test of the effectiveness of regional bosses: whether they can control the situation, whether they can ‘draw’ the right figure and make people accept it and not protest.”
In his opinion, “these procedures” have nothing to do with democracy.