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Russia shuttles residents of occupied Donbas to vote in Duma elections amid accelerated passportization

Logo of Putin’s United Russia party (on the right panel) alongside the flags of the party and Russia at the so-called “Forum of Russian Citizens” held in the Russian-controlled city of Luhansk on 14 July 2021. Source.
Russia shuttles residents of occupied Donbas to vote in Duma elections amid accelerated passportization
For the first time since the beginning of Russian occupation of east-Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk cities in 2014, Russia is going to engage the residents of these areas into voting in the upcoming elections to the State Duma of Russia set for 17-19 September 2021, according to RFE/RL.

The leadership of the occupation administrations touts this affair as an “act of unification” and the beginning of full-scale integration into Russia’s socio-political processes, StopFake says. Meanwhile, Ukraine condemns both the planned participation of Luhansk and Donetsk residents in the Russian elections and Russia’s mass naturalization of those potential voters – the very policy that enabled this participation in the voting.

Moscow doesn’t have plans to open new polling stations in the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. Instead, the voting would be carried out online there, following the decision of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission. Reportedly, 255 remote voting centers have been opened in Donetsk Oblast and 141 more in Luhansk, while the votes of such voters are going to be geographically ascribed to Rostov Oblast of Russia.

Also, the Donetsk and Luhansk locals will be provided with free train and bus rides to adjoining Rostov Oblast of Russia for voting there. According to Interfax, there would be 825 bus and 12 railway free trips, departing from Donetsk oblast alone.

Mass passportization

Preparations for the State Duma Elections elections in the occupied part of the Donbas kicked off as early as the spring of 2021. At the time, Russia distributed under a simplified procedure some 630,000 Russian passports among local residents of these areas officially known as ORDLO, according to the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC). About 2 million people live in the occupied territories, according to data from the Ministry of Reintegration.

Thus, Russia has given away its passports to at least 1/3 of the total population in the area.

Ukraine condemned the mass naturalization of Donbas locals by Russia from the onset of the process launched by Putin’s decree in 2019, calling it “a blatant interference into internal affairs of Ukraine” and “Russia’s ongoing attempts at creeping annexation of the Ukrainian Donbas” in a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

However, it didn’t have any effect on Russia, which continues giving away its passports in ORDLO even now, more than two years after Putin’s decision.

NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov believes that mass naturalization is linked to the Russian elections:

“Why is Putin doing this? To get an additional 500,000 votes in the State Duma elections,” Mr. Danilov said on 24 Channel, according to RFE/RL.

According to the Security Service of Ukraine, the Russian occupation forces expect to involve as many residents of the temporarily occupied territories as possible in the elections. For that reason, the agency believes, the occupation authorities starting from June 2021 and under direct instructions from the Russian Federation, accelerated the forced acquisition of Russian citizenship in the area.

“People living in that area are forced to obtain Russian documents. Because it is becoming more and more difficult to live there with Ukrainian documents,” said Denis Kazanskyi, Ukraine’s representative of Donetsk in the Tripartite Contact Group (TCG) on Donbas.

Putin’s party campaigning

United Russia, the Russian ruling party, began its unprecedented campaign in the Donbas for the upcoming State Duma elections. on 14-15 July as United Russia legislators took part in forums in Donetsk and Luhansk, promising to improve anything and everything in the area, from the economy to the raised quota for Donbas students in Russian universities.

Now, a convention of United Russia took place in Donetsk, presided by Denis Pushilin, the so-called “head of Donetsk People’s Republic,” and Andrey Turchak, the secretary of the General Council of United Russia, on 8 September. The latter stated that about 4,000 Donetskers and Luhanskers joined United Russia at the time.

The election campaign unfolded by the Russian ruling Kremlin party in Donbas is unprecedented, says StopFake, it includes even “educational humanitarian convoys” by United Russia representatives bringing computers, interactive whiteboards, sports equipment, and so on.

Turchak has repeatedly visited occupied Donetsk.

“He talked there about children’s playgrounds that United Russia will build in Donetsk, about computer classes,” said Oleksandr Demchenko, a journalist with the Donbas.Realii Radio Liberty project, “These trips are as follows. They put up banners, some billboards, collect some extras from among “state employees” and deliver some propaganda speeches.”

Recently, Russia refused to extend the mandate of two OSCE monitoring missions located at Russian border checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk on the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba believes that this is also related to the upcoming Duma elections,

“It is no coincidence that a little more than a week ago, Russia refused to extend the mandate of two OSCE missions working at checkpoints on the Russian-Ukrainian border. with no monitors in place, this, in fact, contributes to setting up ‘election carousels’,” Kuleba said.

The “carousel” is a technique of repeated voting or of bringing in a large number of voters to have the wanted outcome.

DW suggests that with an expected turnout of 50% of all voters, the current 27% rating of United Russia support will translate into at least 40% of those who came to the polls, which makes about 22 million people. Therefore, the current 630,000 would-be voters from the Donbas are potentially a 3% addition to the votes for Russia’s ruling party. However, this train of thought rests on an assumption that the upcoming Russian elections are going to be more or less fair in the terms of counting the votes.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine called on the international community not to recognize the legitimacy of the elections to the Russian State Duma, as they violate the Minsk accords meant to settle hostilities in the Donbas and the principles of international law.

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