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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Putin’s Political Triumph: Unveiling the Truth Behind the Russian Regional Vote

On Sunday, Russia concluded its widely criticized regional and municipal elections, which also included regions annexed from Ukraine. These elections saw significant support for President Vladimir Putin, despite allegations of electoral manipulation and Ukraine’s efforts to reclaim its territories.

The Council of Europe, the prominent human rights organization in Europe, condemned the week-long voting process as a blatant breach of international law. Kyiv and its allies asserted that the elections constituted an unlawful attempt by Moscow to tighten its control over regions in Ukraine’s southern and eastern territories.

The resounding support for Putin’s United Russia party in both Russia and the annexed regions reinforced the Kremlin’s consistent domestic message that Putin is the foremost guarantor of stability. However, electoral competition in these regions was severely limited, as authorities blocked strong candidates, including those from Russia’s main opposition Communist Party, from participating.

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Stanislav Andreychuk, co-chair of Golos, a voter rights group labeled a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, highlighted instances of electoral irregularities across the country, emphasizing that these elections lacked authenticity. He reported cases of opposition candidates facing detentions, vandalism of their vehicles, and even military draft notices being served to election observers, describing these actions as “unthinkable.”

The Kremlin’s stance, on the other hand, is that opinion polls and numerous election victories demonstrate Putin’s overwhelming popularity in Russia, affirming the fairness and freedom of the electoral process.

MAJOR PARTIES LOYAL TO PUTIN

All significant and legally recognized political forces in Russia, including a variety of opposition parties that offer a semblance of competition during elections, exhibit broad loyalty to President Putin and his 18-month-long involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

Throughout the nation, United Russia emerged victorious in every contested provincial governor’s race. Among the re-elected regional leaders was the influential Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin. In a virtually uncontested race, preliminary results indicated that Sobyanin secured over 75% of the vote in the Russian capital, despite it being considered one of the areas in the country with a stronger opposition presence.

Critics of the Kremlin have alleged that Moscow’s elections are susceptible to manipulation, primarily due to the capital’s electronic voting system, which they claim lacks transparency and auditability. Similar electronic voting systems have been implemented in numerous other regions across Russia.

Kremlin-supported candidates were also prevailing in four war-torn Ukrainian regions—Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson—which Moscow unilaterally declared as its territory last year, a move vehemently denounced as illegal by Kyiv and its international allies.

Japan’s Foreign Minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, expressed strong disapproval, stating that it was “totally unacceptable” for Russia to conduct such “elections” in these regions based on an illegal “annexation.” Virtually all of Russia’s allies continue to recognize these regions as part of Ukraine.

Russian officials reported that United Russia received substantial majorities in these regions, securing at least 70% of the vote in each. Detailed voting data was not immediately disclosed.

As a result of these election outcomes, Moscow’s appointed governors in these territories, comprising a mix of long-standing separatist leaders and local pro-Russian politicians, have secured full terms in office. It’s important to note that none of the four regions are under full control of the Russian army.

Ukraine, which initiated a strenuous counteroffensive in June to reclaim these territories, has been gradually regaining control in the Zaporizhzhia region and has also claimed some territorial advancements in Donetsk, particularly around the city of Bakhmut.

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