Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Russian elections in Donbas as the start of reintegration of the occupied territories into Russia


Regular elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation took place from 17 to 19 September. The ruling United Russia party has won 324 out of 450 mandates and has a constitutional majority in the lower house of the Russian parliament. This result is worse than in previous years. In 2016, as a result of the elections, United Russia had 343 mandates in the State Duma. Against the background of falling support for Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party, the Kremlin leadership succeeded in massive fraud, having previously done everything possible to suppress fair competition by putting pressure on opposition parties, declaring their leaders «extremists», as well as by harassing independent journalists and human rights defenders. Google Play and the App Store, under pressure from the Russian authorities, removed the Navalny app associated with the Russian opposition.

In addition, the Kremlin involved in the elections, including forcibly, Ukrainian citizens. According to the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Lyudmila Denisova, 230,000 Ukrainian citizens living in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions took part in the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. According to her, people were given passports and taken to Russia to vote. Another 150,000 employees of the public sector and students, given mandatory registration on the portal «Derzhuslugi», voted in 255 «info centers» in Donetsk region and in 141 in Luhansk region. She also said that more than a thousand polling stations were operating illegally in the occupied Crimea. The occupier forced state employees to go to the polls and report on the «choice made». In particular, in Feodosia, teachers had to take pictures in a voting booth and send a photo via one of the social networks; in another Crimean school, they had to take pictures «with the right choice» near the ballot box.[1] Also, for voting in the Rostov region, 825 buses were launched from ORDLO and 12 rail trips were organized. At the same time, the Security Service of Ukraine stated that the buses that carried the so-called voters from ORDLO to Russia were running half empty. While, according to the documents, they had 100% load of places. Such a pseudo-mass turnout was actively covered by pro-Russian propagandists who created the «necessary» picture in the media, the Security Service of Ukraine press center reports. According to available information, most of the scams occurred through electronic voting. In particular, the organizers collected personal data of «dependent state employees» and entered their data into the system without the personal participation of «voters».[2]

The actions of the Russian Federation grossly violate the fundamental principles and norms of international law, the obligations of the Russian Federation under international treaties to which Ukraine and Russia are parties. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine protested and condemned the holding of elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories. The position of the Ukrainian authorities was supported by the international community, incl. European Union. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell noted that the EU does not and will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, therefore it does not recognize the so-called elections held on the occupied Crimean peninsula. And Russia's decision to involve the residents of the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine that are not currently controlled by the Ukrainian authorities in its elections contradicts the spirit and goals of the Minsk agreements.[3]

In fact, the Russian Federation continues to integrate the occupied territories into its political space on the model of South Ossetia. Legally ORDLO is not a part of the Russian Federation. However, this area is home to a large number of Ukrainians who have already received Russian passports and become Russian citizens. The currency, the Russian ruble, has been the main legal tender since 2015. A new chauvinistic pro-fascist ideology is being imposed on the population of the occupied territories, which was enshrined in the January «Russian Donbass» doctrine, which was presented at the so-called «Integration Forum» in Donetsk.

This Doctrine defines a number of objectives. These are, in particular: the formation of a special view on history among the population of the occupied territories of the East of the country, which is based on the ideals and values of «Russian civilization»; «Assistance in strengthening Russian national identity, patriotism, pride of the Donbas people for their Motherland (Russia) and responsibility for its future»; «Return of Donbas as a subject in the sphere of Russian historical space» and others. In addition, programs for the resettlement of residents from the occupied territories to the sparsely populated regions beyond the Urals are being discussed in Russia itself, and this initiative is already being tested. In early September, 2,000 miners with their families were transported from Donbas to Yakutia, and Russian passports were distributed to all persons.

Under such conditions, the reintegration of the occupied territories through the implementation of the «Minsk Agreements» is impossible. At the moment one more exacerbation is taking place in the east of Ukraine. According to the OSCE report, in September, on average, more than 250 violations of the ceasefire regime are registered per day. The large number of civilian casualties resulting from shelling and gunfire is of particular concern. It is clarified that there has been no such shelling in Donbas since last summer, when ceasefire measures were taken. In addition, ORDLO representatives blocked the movement of the OSCE monitoring mission 37 times, and Russia does not extend the OSCE border and surveillance mission mandate at two checkpoints on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Therefore, the cycle of an armed conflict in the East is entering a new phase of escalation. Thus, the Russian Federation will continue to use the aggravation in Donbas to exert political pressure on Ukraine, while completing the integration of the occupied districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions into the bosom of its statehood, which can be regarded as a creeping annexation of Ukrainian territory.

The Ukrainian authorities should regard such actions as Russia's withdrawal from the Minsk agreements, and no longer remain in their paradigm of resolving the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. We need to think about a real strategy that would ensure the return of the occupied territories. Only under this condition can peace be achieved without relying on the Minsk process and exclusively diplomatic means. After the Russian elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation in Donbas, the presence of the Ukrainian side in the Minsk process means only one thing - the continuation of the war with Russia in Donbas.