Russia Elections: Moscow Claims Large Victory in Annexed Territories

A contentious success for the Kremlin

Russia Elections: Moscow Claims Large Victory in Annexed Territories

A contentious success for the Kremlin. Moscow claimed, on the evening of Sunday September 10, the victory of Vladimir Putin's party in the elections organized in the territories annexed to Ukraine, with more than 70% of the votes, votes considered "illegal" by Kiev and its allies.

Russia's Central Election Commission said Sunday evening that the Russian president's United Russia party came first in these regional elections in the four territories annexed to Ukraine. The President of the Electoral Commission, Ella Pamfilova, expressed satisfaction that the elections were held “dynamically, with few violations.”

With these elections spread over three days, from Friday to Sunday, Moscow is trying to legitimize its annexations in Ukraine by having the occupied territories in the East and the South vote. Despite strong condemnations from the West, Russia proclaimed in September 2022 the annexation of four Ukrainian territories that it only partially controls – Zaporizhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk – following “referendums” not recognized by the International community. The fighting is still raging there and the Ukrainian army has launched a counter-offensive.

In the four annexed Ukrainian regions, the occupation authorities have bent over backwards to present some semblance of normalcy, despite the ongoing fighting. In the Donetsk region, voters cast ballots adorned with the Russian double-headed eagle, while in Kherson, Governor Vladimir Saldo decreed that Friday would be off, so that each citizen could “express their position ".

The Russians also voted on Sunday in these regional elections without suspense, in a context of muzzled opposition, where critical voices of the Ukrainian conflict are unceremoniously repressed. For more than a year and a half, thousands of Russians have in fact been sentenced, sometimes to heavy sentences, for protesting against the offensive in Ukraine.

And no real opposition “outside the system” is represented: the opponents are either in prison or in exile. The outcome of these elections, organized to designate governors, regional deputies and municipal elected officials, should therefore not cause any surprises. The vote comes a few months before the presidential election scheduled for early 2024, which could consolidate Vladimir Putin in power until 2030.

In several Russian regions, where the influx of voters is traditionally greatest on Sunday, the vote is also colored by the conflict. In Rostov-on-Don, a large city in southwest Russia located not far from Ukraine and hit this week by a drone attack, two voters interviewed Sunday by Agence France-Presse near a polling station spontaneously cited this armed conflict as their main concern.

“Above all, we want to live in peace, we and our children,” said Nina Antonova, 40-year-old occupational protection specialist. “Everyone is only concerned about one problem: war. We have no other problems,” assures Anatoli, an 84-year-old retiree.

In Moscow, the outgoing mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, a loyalist of Vladimir Putin in office since 2010, omnipresent on television in recent days to inaugurate new regional train lines or renovated hospitals, was re-elected without difficulty. “The winner is unequivocally already known,” declared Sunday evening an official of the central electoral commission, Nikolai Bulaev, sending his congratulations to the councilor “for such a convincing victory.”

Muscovites met by Agence France-Presse said they appreciated the modern turn taken by the Russian capital under the leadership of Sergei Sobyanin. “Moscow is blooming before our eyes! » exclaims Roukhine Aliev, a 21-year-old student. "We are only for him!" » says Olga, a 67-year-old retiree.

Several hundred kilometers southwest of Moscow, in the border regions of Ukraine, regularly targets of attacks from kyiv, the security conditions for the organization of the vote are precarious. Election Commission chairwoman Ella Pamfilova has already announced that voting in the town of Chebekino, Belgorod region, has been "postponed due to a high level of alert".

The only notable political development: in southern Siberia, Communist Party candidate Valentin Konovalov, 35, is trying to be re-elected in the mountainous and sparsely populated region of Khakhassia. He is far ahead of his opponents, according to the official Tass agency.