Kiev decries Russian plan to open election to voters in east Ukraine

Russia believed to have given passports to 600,000 people in militia-held areas

Natalia Vigak, the deputy head of the election commission, arrives for early voting at the Mutnovskaya geothermal power plant in the Elizovsky district of Russian. Photograph: Alexander Petrov/AP Photo

Natalia Vigak, the deputy head of the election commission, arrives for early voting at the Mutnovskaya geothermal power plant in the Elizovsky district of Russian. Photograph: Alexander Petrov/AP Photo

 

Kiev has condemned Russia’s plan to allow hundreds of thousands of people living in militia-run parts of eastern Ukraine to vote in Sunday’s Russian parliamentary elections, when they are expected to back the Kremlin’s preferred party.

Kiev says Russia has distributed more than 600,000 passports in parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions that have been held since 2014 by Moscow-led separatists, amid fighting with government troops that has claimed more than 14,000 lives. The Kremlin also annexed Crimea seven years ago, after a revolution in Ukraine pivoted the country towards the West.

“I emphasise again that under international law, the only status Russia has in Crimea and areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is that of occupying state,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday.

“I understand we cannot cancel the elections, and that the Russians will do what they deem necessary there, because they control that territory. But everything comes to an end, and so I’m sure that the Russian occupation will also end ... and all recorded rights breaches by the Russian Federation will have to be paid for.”

Mr Kuleba said Ukraine would respond to Russia’s inclusion of the separatist-controlled areas in its election “in the established way: we will note the violations and appeal to our partners”.

Russia is allowing people living in the breakaway “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk to vote across the border in the Russian region of Rostov, which is also one of seven provinces where voters can cast ballots online.

Buses and trains

Separatist officials in Donetsk said they would provide 825 buses and 12 trains to take people to Rostov, in what Mr Kuleba described as “electoral carousels, transporting voters to make it look like an expression of the people’s will”.

Most of the voters from militia-controlled areas are expected to back Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, which is closely tied to Russian president Vladimir Putin but has seen its ratings fall steadily in recent years.

“Why’s Putin doing it?” Ukrainian security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov said recently. “It’s to get another 500,000 votes in the elections.”

The West has condemned Russia’s distribution of passports to people in eastern Ukraine, but Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that “if a Russian citizen living in another country wishes to come to Russia to cast a ballot here, he or she has the right to do so”.

The European Parliament approved a report this week that said the EU must “be prepared to withhold recognition of the Russian parliament if the 2021 parliamentary elections ... are conducted in violation of democratic principles and international law”.

The report urged the EU to engage with the Russian people while opposing Mr Putin’s regime, which it described as a “stagnating authoritarian kleptocracy led by a president-for-life surrounded by a circle of oligarchs”.