On September 10, 2023, elections of various levels will be held in the Russian Federation, including by-elections of State Duma deputies, elections of heads of 26 regions (21 — direct and 5 — through parliamentary voting); deputies of legislative bodies of state authority in 16 subjects of Russia, as well as elections of 79 municipal unions of the Russian occupation administrations of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts of Ukraine, occupied by the Russian army. The holding elections in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine (TOT) is a gross violation of international law, as well as an attempt to legitimize the occupation of Ukrainian territory in the eyes of the world community.
The full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine with the aim of occupying it resulted in a complete fiasco for Putin — the “three-day” victorious war turned into a year and a half of massacre, in which the Russian army suffered the largest casualties since 1945 and lost a huge amount of military equipment. The so-called SMO, which is a war of aggression, unveiled the myth of the “second army of the world” fighting on the patterns of the First World War and caused serious image losses to Putin: the whole world became convinced that Russia is a colossus on clay feet, asymmetrically weak, although and a big country. Accordingly, the Kremlin has revised its policy on the occupied territories of Ukraine and seeks to fully integrate them into the Russian Federation, removing all attributes of Ukrainianness. This is a deliberate, purposeful occupation of the internationally recognized territories of Ukraine: the elections to the TOT on September 10 will be an echo of last year’s referendums and will strengthen the Kremlin’s occupation permissiveness in the internationally recognized territories of Ukraine. Needless to say about the terror and coercion during the upcoming election: acts of expression of will of Ukrainians who are under Russian occupation will take place at the machine guns’ points of the Russian occupiers, like it was on September 23-27, 2022, during illegal referendums, when Putin declared 18 % of the territory of Ukraine (parts of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions) new regions of the Russian Federation. During these events, members of the election commissions were forced to go around the houses and apartments of Ukrainians with ballot boxes, accompanied by armed soldiers, because the local residents rejected to vote for joining the Russian Federation. This year, we can expect a repetition of such a scenario, and after the elections, the repression against the residents of the TOT of Ukraine will intensify. Forced mobilization into the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, deportation to economically backward, remote regions of the Russian Federation, adoption of Ukrainian children by Russian families, settlement of Russians in the empty houses of deported local residents — this is not a complete list of the alleged crimes of the occupying power, which it will begin to carry out against Ukrainians.
An important goal of the Kremlin in the elections is to legitimize this process in the eyes of the world community. For this reason, the Russian Federation will involve international observers, as it was during last year’s referendums in the TOT of Ukraine. Some of these observers in their comments repeated the narratives of Russian propaganda, justifying the referendums. In particular, these are Serbian citizen Dragoslav Bokan, British citizen Vanessa Beeley, Italian citizens Eliseo Bertolasi, Gianfranco Vestuto and Gianantonio Micalessin, German citizens Thomas Röper and Christoph Hörstel, French citizens Chanclue Andre Michel Claude, Emmanuel Leroy, etc. Putin wants to create the appearance that the West agree with Russia’s occupation of part of the territory of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s further freedom of action in these territories. The presence of European observers at the elections in the TOT of Ukraine will mark a shameful act of anti-solidarity not only with Ukraine, but also with those EU countries that support Kyiv and will become a kind of “census” of odious pro-Russian public figures in Europe.
The elections in the TOT is dangerous for the West, i.e., Putin is setting a precedent for changing the frontiers that are considered inviolable in Europe – according to the Helsinki Accords of 1975. The Kremlin does not ignore the norms and principles of international law: it seeks to implement the practice of forcibly changing borders. This will lead to a series of wars and conflicts that can destabilize Europe with the flow of refugees and socio-economic crisis. Putin’s attempt to question the borders existing in the post-Soviet space may cause, in turn, a change of borders in Europe. Ignoring this threat will only bring it closer to the civilized West and make it more vulnerable to Russia.
Elections in the TOT violate the UN Charter, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. They confirm the impossibility of holding peace talks with the Russian Federation until the complete withdrawal of its troops from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine. The Russian Federation should receive severe sanctions and find itself in international isolation — this will be a logical response to Putin’s efforts to occupy the sovereign territory of Ukraine.