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    Elections in Russia’s 4 new (formerly Ukrainian) regions this past weekend: sham or exercise in dem Archived Message

    Posted by Keith-264 on September 12, 2023, 9:46 am

    Gilbert Doctorow

    September 11, 2023

    Requests for interviews that I receive from one or another international broadcaster often prompt me to research and prepare statements on current events that I might otherwise not respond to, though they are genuinely important and worth exploring, worth explaining to myself and others in a methodical way.

    Such was the case this morning when WION, India’s English language global broadcaster offered me air time to discuss the results of the elections that took place over the weekend 8-10 September in the four oblasts (regions) which Russia absorbed in the time since it launched its Special Military Operation in Ukraine in February 2022: Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporozhe.

    Their lead question was: the world is denouncing these elections as a sham; what do you think?

    In fact, my cursory examination of the online editions of leading newspapers in the USA, the UK, France and Belgium shows that till now none has said a word about the Russian elections. Perhaps they are waiting for the press release that they will eventually get from the U.S. State Department to guide their reportage, and, for the moment, State is fully engaged following Joe Biden’s travels in Southeast Asia.

    In any case, the question will surely arise in Western media and I am satisfied that what I said in the WION interview is a fair answer given the still incomplete processing of election results in Russia. I felt especially comfortable dealing with this issue thanks to my experience as an international election observer to the 2019 federal elections for president in the Crimea. Crimeans then, like the four above mentioned oblasts absorbed into Russia from Ukraine since 2022, were experiencing their first voting as “subjects” of the Russian Federation.

    As I note in the interview, when compared with the results of voting in Crimea in 2019, the results in the four oblasts this past weekend look credible and explicable.

    Back in 2019 voter participation in Crimea was very high, perhaps 90% Having visited voting centers in various towns across Crimea and watched the orderly lines forming before the centers and their efficient processing inside using machine-readable ballots. I was satisfied that the official figures matched reality.

    Per preliminary data, voter participation in the four new regions over the weekend varies between 65% and 80%. There are easy to understand reasons for lower turnout including, in some parts of the oblasts, Ukrainian missile and drone attacks on voting centers or more generally on residential areas which would persuade risk-averse people to stay at home, possibly in their basements. No such security threats existed in Crimea in 2019. Then there is also the reality that if any part of these oblasts should revert to Ukrainian control, the voter records would immediately be used for persecution up to and including executions by the Ukrainian authorities. This is the sort of calamity that happened to residents of Bucha when it fell to Ukrainian forces. Nonetheless, the actual turnout in the four regions was fully sufficient to declare the elections as officially valid.

    So who won in the 4 new regions? Everywhere the ruling United Russia Party won, carrying 75-80% of votes counted. This is somewhat lower than the party’s sweep of votes in Crimea in 2019, but that was an election for the president and Vladimir Putin enjoyed popularity well above that of the party backing him. These elections were for local city councils and parliamentary assemblies, as well as for Duma deputies.

    As I said, in 2019 I was part of an international group of election observers that spread out across the Crimea. This year there were also international observers who came to Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhie and Kherson oblasts. I take my hat off to them, because they were quite brave to risk possibly falling victim to Ukrainian attacks. Among the observers, there were nationals from the USA, The Netherlands, Spain, Serbia, Cameroon, France and Argentina in a total contingent of experts numbering 33. As one might expect, they gave the elections a clean bill of health as fair and transparent at a press conference in Moscow presided by elections chairwoman Pamfilova when the polls had closed.


    What was the message that Russia was trying to send to the world by holding these elections?

    This was the second question posed by my interviewer from WION.

    In fact, Russia has very little interest in what the outside world may think of these elections. The presence of foreign election observers was just a box to be checked as a certification issue. These elections were held to satisfy the needs and expectations of Russians in Russia. Notwithstanding all the attempts of US-led media to cast Russia as an autocracy and enemy of democracy, that is nothing more than propaganda used to justify Western aggression targeting Russian interests, including hybrid warfare and confiscation of assets.

    The voting in Kherson, Zaporozhie, Donetsk and Kherson puts in place popularly elected city counselors and other local officials. It gives them legitimacy that the Moscow appointed officials who were operating till now could not enjoy.

    This is not to say that the elections had no drawbacks. The most obvious of these is that the territories of the original four oblasts are still not completely held by Russia. That is to say, depending on your standpoint, these oblasts are partly occupied by Ukrainian forces, where, of course, no voting took place. The second problem is that the oblasts have lost a large part of the population living there before the war. Large numbers of the local population fled to Russia, a substantial part went West and they are now refugees in the EU. All of these former residents did not vote for obvious reasons. By the way, the same problem will present itself if any peace treaty to end this war requires that referenda be held at a future date to ratify the union with Russia or to reverse it.


    Let us assume that the voting in these four oblasts does begin to get coverage in Western media in coming days. It is less likely much attention will be given to the voting in the rest of the Russian Federation, which was a far more vast and diverse process. Indeed, there are 85 regions or ‘subjects’ in the Federation where voting took place. Many of the races were local, for mayors, city councils and the like, plus the federal deputies to the State Duma.

    Not every governorship in Russia is elected; many are appointed by the president. However, in 21 regions, the governor’s position was put to the ballot. According to latest reported results, all 21 incumbents were voted back into office: 19 United Russia governors and 2 Communist Party governors. In the Duma elections, the overall picture in most of Russia was 70% to 80% for the United Russia Party, 10-20% for the Communists, and the balance for other Duma parties: the Liberal Democrats (LDPR), Just Russia and New People, a centrist party that formed since the last elections. In some regions, especially in Siberia and the Far East, the mix was somewhat different, in keeping with local traditions and ‘favorite son’ candidates from the Communists or Liberal Democrats.

    The overall conclusion from these national parliamentary elections is that they point to an overwhelming victory for Vladimir Putin if he is in the race for president in 2024.

    Finally, one further observation on the elections across Russia: there was very heavy use of electronic absentee ballots via the internet. In Moscow, where this procedure was most advanced, 2.5 million out of a total of 3 million votes cast were such absentee ballots. This is a new practice in Russia. It will be interesting to see what complaints there may eventually be over voting irregularities. In the USA, in particular, the political elites should pay close attention to what the Russians are doing in their democracy considering all the scandals surrounding absentee paper ballots in the 2020 elections.

    When the WION link becomes available, it will be posted here.

    ©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023

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    • Elections in Russia’s 4 new (formerly Ukrainian) regions this past weekend: sham or exercise in dem - Keith-264 September 12, 2023, 9:46 am