Kyiv has expressed outrage at Russia’s plans to hold presidential votes across occupied Ukrainian territory in the spring – in an election that is likely to see Vladimir Putin extend his grip on power until at least 2030.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry called the elections, planned for March 17, ‘null and void’, and pledged that any international observers sent to monitor them would ‘face criminal responsibility’.
Russian authorities plan to arrange voting in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – territories Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in September last year but does not fully control.
Votes are also being planned in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Combined, the areas make up almost a fifth of Ukraine.
Putin, who has been in power since 1999, moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the election this week.
Vladimir Putin, who has been in power since 1999, announced his candidacy in the election this week (file image)
President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky listens on during a meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I, during a visit to the Patriarchal Church of St. George
A damaged residential building in the occupied Donetsk region on December 9, 2023
Ukrainian soldiers exit an Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) on December 7 in Donetsk
Signaling that he intended to lay the groundwork for votes in the territories, Putin on Tuesday signed legislation allowing votes to be held under conditions of martial law – which is in effect in the regions.
Despite labelling the regions its ‘new territories’, Russia does not fully control any of the four regions and Ukraine is continuing to battle its forces across the south and east.
With many of Putin’s key political opponents, most notably opposition leader Alexei Navalny, jailed and silenced, the despot is all but certain to win.
The only potential challengers – who are not imprisoned – are 79-year-old Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, and the leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, Leonid Slutsky, 55.
Neither of the men has announced a decision on whether they will run.
The announcement of the presidential election follows local elections for Russian-installed legislatures in occupied parts of Ukraine in September.
The votes were denounced as a sham by Kyiv and the West.
Putin announced he will run for president yet again, having spent some 24 years in power either as president or prime minister
Addressing Putin at an awards ceremony at the Kremlin, Lt. Col. Artyom Zhoga praised the president for annexing the Donbas region of Ukraine and implored him to seek re-election
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (centre) and Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi (right) visit a Ukrainian army command post in Kupiansk, Kharkiv
‘We call on the international community to resolutely condemn Russia’s intention to hold presidential elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories, and to impose sanctions on those involved in their organisation and conduct,’ Ukraine’s foreign ministry said of the latest announcement.
It comes as Ukraine’s leadership, including President Volodymyr Zelensky has admitted to failings in its counter-offensive which was launched in spring.
On Friday, December 1, Zelensky said the plan had not achieved ‘the desired results’.
As the war grinds on and frustrations mount among Ukrainian soldiers and their families at home, many are placing the blame for perceived failings on the battleground at his door.
Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko speaks to journalists during the opening ceremony of the Podilsko-Voskresenskyi Bridge on December 1
Rescuers work at a site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in the town of Novohrodivka, Donetsk, on November 30
Earlier this week, in an interview with Swiss media, the mayor of Kyiv, ex-heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, pointed to the President’s declining popularity.
‘People wonder why we weren’t better prepared for this war, why Zelensky denied until the end that it would come to this. People see who’s effective and who’s not… Zelensky is paying for mistakes he has made.’
The 52-year-old, who has been mayor of Kyiv since 2014 and is a political opponent of the president, added: ‘People wonder why we weren’t better prepared for this war. Why Zelensky denied until the end that it would come to this.’
Ukrainian soldiers fire on targets in the direction of Avdiivka, Donetsk, as the Russo-Ukrainian war continues on December 1
‘The president has an important function today and we must support him until the end of the war.
‘But at the end of this war, every politician will pay for his successes or failures.’
Brushing off suggestions he would consider running for the role of premier, Klitschko added: ‘It would be stupid to think about it today. Today the only question is whether Ukraine continues to exist at all.’
Like Russia, Ukraine’s presidential elections are also due to be held in March, but its constitution prohibits them from being held under martial law, which is currently in place.
Zelensky said last week that now was ‘not the time for elections,’ and added that speculation on the subject was ‘irresponsible.’