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“You сan’t hold elections in someone else’s country”: Why Russia’s “voting” in occupied Ukraine is a sham

From Luhansk to Kherson, Russia forced occupied Ukrainian regions to “vote” in staged elections without legitimate candidates or voters.
sham elections occupied Ukraine
Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast. Skadovsk. A so-called “polling station” on 8 September 2023 Photo: Kherson Oblast Elections/Telegram propaganda channel
“You сan’t hold elections in someone else’s country”: Why Russia’s “voting” in occupied Ukraine is a sham

Article by Euheniia Martyniuk, Alya Shandra

Russia has held fake elections in the occupied territories of Ukraine. These include parts of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia oblasts, and Crimea. Russian state media reported that Putin’s party, United Russia, won by a wide margin, although the outcome was pre-determined. No independent observers were present at these “elections,” and no international organization recognized the results.

The “elections” were held on 8-10 September, despite the international community widely dismissing them as a sham. These were so-called “regional elections” to determine the composition of local Russian-installed authorities, including puppet parliaments, local councils, and governors.

Predetermined results for “United Russia” and political integration of occupied territories

The results were predictable: Russia claimed that Putin’s party, United Russia, won everywhere by a large margin. For instance, in the occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, it was claimed to receive 83%. It purportedly garnered around 75% of the vote in other occupied regions. All the governors appointed by Russia also remain in their positions.

Nobody doubted that these figures would be precisely like this. The United Kingdom’s representative at the UN, Barbara Woodward, stated that Russia knew the results in advance.

“Not only are Russia’s actions illegal and illegitimate, but we have information that the Kremlin has pre-determined the results of the sham elections across sovereign Ukrainian territory which Russia temporarily controls,” Woodward said.

In Russia itself, Putin’s United Russia has a rich history of falsifying elections. The process of rigging the vote is regularly analyzed by Russian statisticians, who publish the coefficient of fraud after each “election” in Russia.

Therefore, the “voting” in Ukraine by definition could not be democratic; nor did it have a semblance of legality, according to the head of the board of the Civic Network OPORA, Olha Aivazovska. She maintains that the Russians are pursuing only one goal – to politically integrate the occupied territories into the legal space of the Russian Federation, according to their legislation.

“It is insufficient to nominally include the territory in the constitution of the Russian Federation, one needs to include it in the political process, which does not fully exist in Russia, where democracy was abolished long ago. We understand that there can be neither a high turnout nor real expression of will there. But the small number of [Ukrainian] citizens who will organize this process will not be able to take a step back. According to Ukrainian law, organizing illegal elections and referendums is a crime,” Aivazovska said, referring to the collaborators in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Armed commissions go door-to-door, probing for men to mobilize

According to locals, the “vote” had nothing to do with regular elections. Initially, Russian officials went door-to-door with ballot boxes, and only after that they summoned residents to “polling stations.” “Voting’ could be done with either Russian or Ukrainian passports. Photos show people dropping ballots into boxes under the watchful eyes of heavily-armed soldiers.

People living in the occupied territory say that collaborators together with the Russian military are going around with ballot boxes and demanding to vote for United Russia, even though there are several parties on the ballot. Before the ‘election,’ in some villages, they took away people’s passports and phones and said they would return them when the [ballots were checked]. They walked around with machine guns and recorded the voting on camera. This is what happened in Kherson during the referendum,” Oksana Pohomiy, a Ukrainian lawmaker from Kherson Oblast, told Suspilne of the vote in her occupied region.

The occupation authorities claim that the voter turnout was very high. For example, in the occupied part of the Kherson Oblast, according to the Russians, 65.1% of residents came to “vote.”

Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast, Lazurne. Polling station set up on the street, 3 September 2023 Photo: Propaganda channel “Election Commission of Kherson Oblast”/Telegram

What do these figures mean? The legitimate mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, believes that the Russians forced people to vote.

“Members of the ‘election committees’ go door-to-door with automatic weapons and show people where to mark their ballots. They force municipal employees to simultaneously come to a single polling station to capture a ‘large number of voters’ on camera and show it to the Kremlin,” Fedorov stated.

Yuriy Konovalenko, the legitimate head of occupied Polohy, echoes this observation, telling Suspilne that two soldiers with machine guns and several collaborators from the “electoral commission” had gone around the city and nearby villages with ballot boxes.

“In some places, they were more active; in others, they knocked on the door and left. They didn’t ask for passports at all; they had lists of who lived there. They gave a ballot and demanded to vote,” Konovalenko stated.

According to Ukrainian Army spokeswoman Nataliia Humeniuk, the commissions going around the settlements because the turnout at polling stations was a flop.

“The Russian occupiers are trying to collect the votes of the electorate as much as possible to understand how many people live on this territory in general, and what mobilization resources they can count on. They are trying to create so-called ‘territorial defence units’ out of them, under the pretext of defending their locality, but then reformat them into groups that are sent to the front line,” Humeniuk said.

A man places a "ballot" into a box on the street in a residential area in Russian-occupied Henichesk, Kherson Oblast, 6 September 2023: Kherson Oblast Election Commission/Telegram
A man places a “ballot” into a box on the street in a residential area in Russian-occupied Henichesk, Kherson Oblast, 6 September 2023: Kherson Oblast Election Commission/Telegram

Most likely, however, the relatively high turnout means that Russians fabricated the “results” data because no independent observers were present at these “elections,” so no reliable information on their course is available.

For instance, Viktoriia Halitsyna the legitimate head of the military administration of Russian-occupied Berdiansk, a city on the Azov Sea coast, maintains that the pseudo-elections were a complete flop for the occupiers, as the turnout was in reality, critically low. She added that black covers were used on the boxes at polling stations to obscure the sparse number of ballots.

Kremlin-approved international “observers”

The Russians have brought propagandists and “pseudoexperts” from all over the world to legitimize the fake elections, the Kyiv-based Institute for Mass Information (IMI) reports. These individuals do not even pretend to belong to any independent international organization, IMI writes. Moscow openly bought all of them, and they are not ashamed. For example, the Russians brought seven propagandists from India, Brazil, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Mozambique to the occupied part of Kherson Oblast, a photo of the “delegation” shows.

sham election kherson oblast occupied ukraine russia
Fraudulent “observers” of Russia’s sham “elections” in occupied Ukraine, September 2023. Photo: Russian propaganda telegram channel “Nova Kakhovka”

All the “observers” are experienced promoters of fake Russian elections and referendums.

According to IMI, on the far left is one of the favorite darlings of Russian propaganda, Spanish national Enrique Javier Reoyo Asedo. He is a member of the Spanish pro-Russian organization “East-Solidarity-Donbas.” In addition, Asedo is a contributor to the Katehon website, which conducts information warfare against Ukraine at the expense of the Russian “Orthodox oligarch” Konstantin Malofeev.

Next to him is Brazilian citizen Enrique Dominguez, promoter of Russia’s COVID vaccine in Brazil who was an observer at Russia’s previous propaganda show, the “referendum” by which the Ukrainian regions it occupied were annexed by Russia in 2022. Now, Dominguez is persuading Russians that the “elections” in occupied Ukraine were held by “international standards” and that he saw “serious professional work.” Dominguez is sanctioned by Ukraine.

The third one from the left is Sonja Van den Ende from the Netherlands. She calls herself an independent journalist but has lived in Russia for over two years. Van den Ende regularly visits the occupied part of Donbas and praises the Russians there. Moreover, she staunchly defended Moscow after the downing of the flight MH17 in 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. Most of them were Dutch nationals, IMI reports.

In the center of the photo is another interesting “observer,” Dario Abdul Kamal from Mozambique. He graduated from the Moscow School of Economics and claims to have been a volunteer for many reputable organizations, including the International Red Cross, Greenpeace, and UNICEF. However, there is no mention of Kamal on their websites. Commenting on the pseudo-elections in occupied Skadovsk, Kamal stated that he did not see any violations. At that moment, an armed man in a balaclava walked directly behind him at the polling station, IMI notes.

Russian pseudo-elections monitor occupied Ukraine
Dario Abdul Kamal tells reporters no violations were recorded at a polling station against the backdrop of an armed masked man. Photo: screenshot from a broadcast by the local channel Tavria by Imi.org.ua

Also pictured is Purnima Anand, an Indian national who heads the BRICS International Forum and the International Federation of Indo-Russian Youth Clubs.

Anand acted as an observer during Russia’s 2018 presidential election and this year encouraged recognizing Russia’s sham referendums in seized Ukrainian territory. The European Platform for Democratic Elections considers her a member of the pro-Kremlin network of politically biased election observation.

In the group of “observers” are also two Icelandic citizens, EErna Ýr Öldudóttir and Konráð Magnússon. Last September, Oldudottir visited Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine and published articles in local outlets defending the legitimacy of Russia’s referendums on occupied soil. She published on a website using a .su domain, indicating Soviet Union, recycling content verbatim from Russian propaganda outlets.

Oldudottir continues to repeat Moscow’s talking points, such as claims of NATO using Ukraine to fight Russia, in her outlet frettin.is, frequently citing Russian state media sources. The website reliably repeats the Kremlin’s preferred framing of events in Ukraine, according to IMI.

Meanwhile, last year, Magnusson actively recruited Icelandic journalists to observe Russia’s illegal referendums in occupied Ukraine in September 2022, with travel and accommodations paid by a Russian government fund affiliated with the Republic of Bashkortostan, according to local media reports.

After monitoring occupied Kherson’s recent vote, Magnusson called for restoring Russia’s embassy in Reykjavik. Russian media identify him as a businessman and public figure.

The observers’ direct and indirect ties to Moscow contradict claims of impartiality, instead lending a facade of credibility to Russia’s illegal seizures of territory at gunpoint, IMI sums up.

Candidates include Russian soldiers, collaborators wanted for treason in Ukraine

Russia’s central elections committee has not made public the lists of candidates for the local “parliaments” in Russian-occupied Ukraine “for security reasons.” However, some candidates showed up in the media in the pre-electoral period.

Among them is Dmytro Tabachnyk, former head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine’s pro-Russian fugitive ex-president Yanukovych, wanted for treason in Ukraine. Also among them is Viktor Zubrytskyi, founder of the notorious pro-Russian 112 channel, an outlet linked to “Putin’s compadre” Viktor Medvedchuk that spread conspiracies and disinformation before Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Both indicated in their data that they were “advisers” to the “head of the administration” of Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

The Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets explained that the candidates included individuals who should not be on the ballot but rather in prison.

“According to media reports, among the candidates for representative bodies are Russian military personnel who participated in the invasion of Ukraine, killed and tortured people,” Lubinets said.

Ukraine’s Security Service identified over 3,500 organizers and participants of the fake “elections” in Russian-occupied territories, and have pressed charges based on all the gathered facts, specifically under two counts: “violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity” and “collusion.”

Previously, Ombudsman Lubinets stressed that Russian-installed administrations in the occupied territories of Ukraine force Ukrainian citizens to apply for Russian citizenship, take Russian passports, and vote in sham elections.

Ukraine’s Ombudsman: Ukrainian citizens forced to apply for Russian passports and vote in sham elections

Russia has applied this strategy earlier to other parts of occupied Ukraine. Prior to the full-scale invasion of 2022, residents of occupied Donbas were also pressured to accept Russian passports and then shuttled into mainland Russia to participate in Duma elections after a period of campaigning by United Russia.

International community slams the “voting”

The international community does not recognize “voting” in the occupied territories of Ukraine. The US labeled it as “pseudo-elections” and said they would never recognize the results.

“The Kremlin hopes these pre-determined, fabricated results will strengthen Russia’s illegitimate claims to the parts of Ukraine it occupies, but this is nothing more than a propaganda exercise. We remind any individuals who may support Russia’s sham elections in Ukraine, including by acting as so-called ‘international observers,’ that they may be subject to sanctions,” the US State Department noted.

The European Commission and the Council of Europe have condemned these “elections.” Ukrainian authorities have stated that the “voting” in the occupied territories is worthless and has no legal force.

“You can’t hold ‘elections’ in someone else’s country,the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The Ukrainian MFA also warned that the organizers, both Russian officials and collaborators, will be held accountable.

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