Putin, re-election eyed, signs law to allow voting in occupied Ukraine

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RIGA, Latvia – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday cleared the way for Russia’s presidential election to be held in occupied Ukraine in March – part of a highly regulated process to hold in office until at least 2030, even as the Russian war has forced Ukraine to delay. the national elections themselves as the country lives under martial law with millions of citizens displaced.

Putin, who has been Russia’s top leader since December 31, 1999, is expected to formally announce in the coming weeks that he will be running for a fifth term as president. (He also served one term as prime minister from 2008 to 2012.) Putin is definitely winning, because he is tough an electoral system in which opposition figures were jailed or forced to flee the country to avoid arrest.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov last week declined to comment on reports that Putin had decided to run, noting that the Russian leader “had not made any statement.”

In Russia, with a long history of election manipulation, the main discussion is about who would be part of a “campaign group” of citizens assembled by the Kremlin to nominate Putin – part of an effort to create a sense of excitement and cheer. created for him. the 71-year-old to run again.

Among the names reported by the Kommersant newspaper on Monday as likely members of the group were a blonde nationalist singer with the stage name Shaman; the first Russian woman in space, 86-year-old Valentina Tereshkova; 78-year-old film director Nikita Mikhalkov; and 90-year-old Russian pediatrician Leonid Roshal.

Another formality is choosing which candidates will run against Putin. Possible challengers include longtime Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, 79, and nationalist Liberal Democratic Party leader Leonid Slutsky, 55. Neither has – decision to announce.

Both men are among the few party leaders not barred from running, unlike jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and others, most of whom have been imprisoned for political reasons.

Critics say Zyuganov and Slutsky are not real opposition figures but co-opted into a system designed to create a veneer of democracy, with no real threat to Putin or his regime .

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Russian authorities typically block candidates seen as a threat, with Grigory Yavlinsky, co-founder of the progressive Yabloko party, barred from running in 2012 and Navalny banned there in 2018.

Among the small number of candidates who have announced they will run is the opposition Boris Nadezhdin, a member of the local council in the town of Dolgoprudny in the Moscow region, who often appears on state television and calling the war in Ukraine a “fatal mistake.”

To pave the way for elections to be held in populated areas of Ukraine, Putin signed a law on Tuesday enabling the vote to be held under martial law. That signaled his intention to hold the presidential election, due in March next year, in four of Ukraine’s partially occupied regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. – where martial law is in force.

Putin, who is against international law, has announced that these four regions are annexed by Russia. Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed illegally in 2014, has been included in Russian elections since then. In September, Russia held regional elections in Crimea and parts of the other four Ukrainian regions, as well as Russia. The votes in the residential areas were widely criticized as illegitimate.

The move to hold Russia’s presidential election in occupied Ukraine shows Putin’s determination to make the illegal ties irreversible, and signals that they would be off the table for Moscow in any future peace talks. Putin has repeatedly blamed Kyiv for rejecting peace talks, even as Moscow demands that Ukraine surrender all the territories that Russia is trying to seize – bum- starra not accepted by the majority of Ukrainians.

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Ukraine’s presidential election is also due to be held in March, but its constitution prohibits elections to be held under martial law. Voting would be jeopardized by Russia occupying much of the south and east of the country, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front lines, and millions of people displaced. internally or as refugees outside the country.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that it was “not the time for elections,” saying that speculation on the subject was “irresponsible.” “

With Russian military officials preparing for a protracted fight in Ukraine, Putin will stage the election against the backdrop of the war of attrition, which is widely seen by Russia’s elite as a catastrophic mistake that caused heavy casualties, poisoned the relationship of Russia with its main trading partners of the West, for a small clear benefit, and turned a neighbor into a mortal enemy.

In any country with a free press and fair elections, the war would be a recipe for a potentially catastrophic defeat. Recent polls have shown declining support for a war the Kremlin had hoped to win quickly but most Russians now expect it to continue for at least another year.

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In a national poll last month, independent polling group Levada Center found that 70 percent of Russians would support Putin if he ended the war – but only 34 percent said he would not they would support this if he returned occupied territories to Ukraine. In a separate question, more than 56 percent were in favor of peace talks, while 38 percent supported continuing the fighting.

Given the fatigue, many analysts predict the Kremlin will downplay military issues during the campaign and focus instead on conservative family values ​​and bread-and-butter issues, such as low unemployment and higher-than-expected growth boosted by strong arms manufacturing.

The Kremlin’s tight control of the media, its wall-to-wall propaganda against the war and the cult of personality around Putin have eliminated any electoral uncertainty. Multi-day voting and electronic voting have been used in recent years to boost turnout and, critics say, to manipulate results.

Putin’s sky-high approval rating has typically hovered in the low 80s, and Russian media outlets have reported on a number of projects to further boost him and increase voter turnout, including enter a raffle off dozens of apartments, vacation trips and other prizes.

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The Kremlin supported the war through a massive propaganda effort claiming that Russia was not the aggressor. “We had no other choice because we were already attacked,” Putin said to thunderous applause at a meeting this month of the Civic Chamber, a pro-Kremlin advisory body.

The Russian leader falsely blames the United States and its allies for the world’s ills, including the war in Gaza. He openly expresses disdain for the rules-based global order and often accuses the West of plotting to dispossess Russia for its resources.

“You must know and understand where the root of evil is, where this spider is, which is trying to tie the whole planet, the whole world in its web and wants to our strategic defeat on the battlefield,” Putin concluded. month, referring to the United States.

The Russian leader compares himself to Russian czars who expanded Russian territories, or to ancient princes. In the Civil Chamber, he extolled the achievements of a 13th-century medieval prince, Alexander Nevsky, who collaborated with Mongol rulers and fought Swedish invaders.

“In many ways, the same thing is happening today, when we say we are defending our moral values, our history, our culture, our language,” said Putin.

Natalia Abbakumov contributed to this report.

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