This autumn, Russians plan to hold the so-called “elections” for 79 municipal associations and “legislative bodies” (occupation administrations) in parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, and also the “by-elections” to the “state duma” in the occupied Crimea.
What are the implications for Ukraine?
Illegal elections in the occupied territories, the same as the pseudo-referenda in 2014 and in 2022, are null and void, and go against the generally recognized provisions of international law and the Constitution of Ukraine. In 2018, there was a similar situation, when the Russian Federation organized voting in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and in the city of Sevastopol, at the rf presidential elections, and in 2020, at the all-Russian referendum for constitutional amendments.
Neither Ukraine, nor the world shall recognize the occupation of Ukrainian territories. They shall treat illegal any actions of the aggressor state there, including the rigged referenda or elections. For example, the UN General Assembly, in the Resolution on “Aggression Against Ukraine” A/RES/ES-11/1 of March, 2, 2022:
- Deplored in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter;
- Demanded that the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders;
- Deplored the 21 February 2022 decision by the Russian Federation related to the status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and demanded their reverse it.
Ukraine and the civilized world treat the pseudo-elections only as a tool for illegal annexation through the “legalization” of the aggressor’s authorities in the occupied territories.
Russians want to “legalize” the occupation, and at any cost integrate the population of the seized territories into their political field. It is so critical for the Kremlin that the occupiers are ready to conduct pseudo-elections even during the martial law that they announced in the occupied territories.
Moreover, by organizing and conducting illegal elections during active hostilities, Russia deliberately endangers the life and health of civilians in the occupied territories. Such actions may be qualified as violations of Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, and such that have elements of war crimes.
How Did the Ukrainian Authorities Respond?
On August, 9, 2023, the Parliament addressed the parliaments and governments of foreign states, international organizations, and their parliamentary assemblies as to intentions of the Russian Federation to conduct illegal elections in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson Oblasts of Ukraine. The resolutions says that in the event of conducting illegal elections, the Verkhovna Rada will consider their results as null and void and such that do not have any legal consequences.
Previously, the CEC, in its Resolution No.43 dated July, 7, 2023 “On Illegitimate Nature of the Organization and Conduct of Any Elections on the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” emphasized that since the RF does not have any legitimate power over Ukrainian territories, the occupying state may not appoint and conduct there any legitimate elections, whereas all elections on those territories appointed by the aggressor state beyond its jurisdiction and in violation of sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine shall be a priori illegitimate.
It makes sense to agree with the CEC that the participation of representatives of foreign states and international organizations in the observation over those pseudo-elections shall violate the Declaration of Principles of International Observation Over Elections (par. 11). According to it, no organization shall delegate their international missions to monitor the elections in the country when there is a possibility that their presence may be considered as legitimization of the apparently non-democratic process of elections. Otherwise, such actions shall be de facto the complicity in the malicious acts of the aggressor state.
How Should the Ukrainian Law-Enforcement System Respond?
The Criminal Code of Ukraine provides for criminal liability for collaboration, such as the organization of illegal elections and referenda in the occupied territories. Thus, part 5 of Art. 111-1 foresees the punishment in the form of imprisonment for up to 5 to 10 years, with the ban on holding certain positions or engaging in certain activities for up to 10 or 15 years, with or without the confiscation of property. If any actions of decisions made about the organization and conduct of illegitimate elections lead to the death of people or the occurrence of other grave consequences, the punishment may extend to imprisonment of up to 10 years, or the life ban on holding certain positions or engaging in certain activities, for up to 10 or 15 years, and with or without the confiscation of property.
It must be mentioned that we already have the first guilty verdicts as to illegitimate elections in the occupied territories. At the same time, the law-enforcement system faces serious challenges related to the collection of evidence in the occupied territories, which can only be accessed after their de-occupation. In any case, investigators must find the ways to prove the collaborator’s guilt.
What Would The Rest of The World Be Supposed To Do?
The entire civilized international community shall not allow any weak response to the establishment of additional legislative occupation mechanisms and to the conduct of illegal elections in the occupied territories.
This situation demands decisive action. The military aid to Ukraine must intensify on the scale that would allow liberating the occupied territories and deter the aggressor through military means. Moreover, the sanctions must increase the pressure on Russia. In addition, international monitoring entities, parliaments, and foreign governments shall respond to the call of the Ukrainian parliament and ignore all possible requests from the Russian Federation to send observers to the so-called "elections to local authorities" in the temporarily territories parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson Oblasts of Ukraine.