- Controversial “Local Elections” in Russian-Occupied Ukraine Regions
- International Condemnation and Skepticism Surrounding the Elections
- Ukraine’s Counter-Offensive and Struggles for Western Military Support
Residents of Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine are being requested to vote in what the authorities call local elections.
Ukraine’s foreign minister called the polls a “sham”, saying the votes would not have any legal validity.
All candidates are either Russian or pro-Russian, including governors selected by Moscow.
Many early voters were required to submit their ballots in the presence of armed Russian soldiers.
Officials in Ukraine have stated that anyone involved in the organization of the elections can anticipate punishment in the future.
The Council of Europe, a human rights organization, condemned the action in the “illegally annexed Ukrainian territories” as a “gross violation of international law that Russia continues to ignore.”
The council stated in a statement that not only are these regions an integral part of Ukraine. But the decision to conduct elections there “creates the illusion of democracy.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the elections, stating, “Russia’s sham elections in occupied areas of Ukraine are illegitimate.” This prompted the Russian embassy in the United States to accuse Washington of interfering in Moscow’s internal affairs.
The elections, which conclude on Sunday, are occurring in four regions that Russia does not even completely control. Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Zaporizhia and Kherson in the south.
Together, they comprise approximately 15 percent of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
Crimea, unlawfully held by Russia since 2014, is holding elections alongside Russian local elections.
In the presence of armed military
Images shared by Russia’s election commission provide a view into the polling stations that is almost surreal.
Some stations are located in residential backyards and even on street benches, in addition to schools and administrative structures.
Photos depict voters depositing ballots into boxes ostensibly under the surveillance of heavily armed, balaclava-clad soldiers. Several photographs depicted the insertion of ballots into clear plastic ballot boxes, with the votes visible.
The commission reports that voter turnout for so-called regional parliaments in Kherson and Donetsk exceeded 50% and 40%, respectively.
This is significantly higher than regional polls conducted in Russia over the past decade. The Russian military left Kherson almost a year ago and does not control all proclaimed districts.
There are no independent observers present to verify these elections, and the final vote tally has not been made public.
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of the city of Melitopol, characterized the elections as “illegal and pointless,” claiming that many candidates in the Zaporizhzhia region were not locals, with some even hailing from Siberia in the far east of Russia.
He told the AP news agency that security in the city had increased in recent days and that residents were intimidated because voting in an occupied city was comparable to “voting in prison.”
The four occupied regions where elections are taking place were claimed by Moscow as its own in September last year, after holding unlawful annexation referendums on the future of the occupied lands.
The world community called these referendums illegitimate, citing reports of almost 99 percent support for Moscow’s takeover.
Since January, Russia has prohibited the use of Ukrainian currency in the occupied territories.
Moscow has announced that it will deploy its mobile networks and renovate institutions. However, as recently as August, Russian authorities acknowledged that only about 20 percent of schools in these regions had been reconstructed, and its regular mobile networks are conspicuously absent from occupied territories.
In a rare occurrence, Ukrainians have been permitted to vote using their Ukrainian passports. This may be because a substantial number have not adopted Russian nationality.
Kyiv’s summer counter-offensive targets Russia’s election-hosting Zaporizhzhia region.
Ukrainian generals assert that they have breached Russia’s formidable first line of defense in that region, indicating that the counteroffensive in that region is about to acquire momentum.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in the United States describe recent advances as “tactically significant” and as “widening the Ukrainian breach of Russian defensive lines in the area and endangering Russian secondary lines of defense.”
The focal point of Ukraine’s endeavors has been the village of Robotyne, which is located approximately 56 kilometers (35 miles) south-southeast of Zaporizhzhia, the regional capital.
Kyiv wants to cut Russian supply routes keeping Moscow’s military in southern Kherson.
However, on Friday, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, stated that Moscow’s air superiority was impeding the counter-offensive and that armament deliveries and sanctions against Russia were becoming “complicated and slower”
Since last year, Ukraine has pushed strongly for American-made F-16 fighter jets to counter Russia’s advantage in the skies. Several vessels have been guaranteed, but it will likely be months before Kyiv can utilize them.
Kyiv has relied on Western military equipment worth billions of dollars to go on the offensive and has acknowledged that progress through the heavily fortified Russian defenses has been slower than desired.
President Zelensky compared his forces’ advance with the pace of Western support, saying: “When some partners say: so what about the counter-offensive, when will the next step be? My response: Today, our actions are more prompt than the new sanctions.”