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​Russia holds elections in occupied Ukrainian areas in bid to tighten its grip

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Russian President Vladimir Putin
Image Source : AP Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia is holding local elections this weekend in the occupied parts of Ukraine which it annexed a year ago and still does not fully control, in an effort to tighten its grip on the territories.

The voting for the legislatures in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions will take place on Friday and will conclude on Sunday (September 10). The move by Vladimir Putin-led country has been denounced by Kyiv and the West.

“It constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, which Russia continues to disregard,” the Council of Europe, the continent’s foremost human rights body, said this week.

In a statement from the Ukraine Parliament, Kyiv said that the voting in the areas where Russia “conducts active hostilities” poses a threat to Ukrainian lives. The Parliamentarians urged other countries not to recognise the results of the elections.

According to political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, it is important for Russia to continue with the election to maintain the “illusion of normalcy”, despite the fact that the Kremlin does not have full control over the annexed regions.

“The Russian authorities are trying hard to pretend that everything is going according to plan, everything is fine. And if everything is going according to plan, then the political process should go according to plan,” said Gallyamov, who was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speechwriter when Putin served as prime minister.

Voters are supposed to elect regional legislatures, which in turn will appoint regional governors. In the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, thousands of candidates are also competing for seats on dozens of local councils.

The voting in the annexed parts of Ukraine is scheduled for the same weekend as other local elections in Russia.

In the occupied regions, early voting kicked off last week as election officials went door to door or set up makeshift polling stations in public places to attract passersby. The main contender in the election is United Russia, the Putin-loyal party that dominates Russian politics, although other parties, such as the Communist Party or the nationalist Liberal Democratic party, are also on the ballots.

“For the last nine years, we’ve been striving to get closer with Russia, and Russian politicians are well-known to us. We’re speaking Russian and have felt like part of Russia for a long time, and these elections only confirm that,” Sergei, a 47-year-old resident of the occupied city of Luhansk said.

Weeks after the referendum, the Russian troops withdrew from Kherson, the capital of the Kherson region, and nearby areas, ceding them back to Ukraine. As a result, Moscow has maintained control of about 70 per cent of the Kherson region.

Three other regions are also only partially occupied, and Kyiv’s forces have managed to regain more land — albeit slowly and in small chunks — during their summer counteroffensive.

In the occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, where the counteroffensive efforts are focused, Moscow-installed authorities declared a holiday for Friday, the first day of voting.

(With AP inputs)

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