UN chief criticises Russia for holding elections in occupied Ukraine

Voting is taking place through Sunday at polling stations across the country

A woman poses by a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin after voting in presidential elections at a polling station in Donetsk. EPA
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres criticised Russia on Friday for holding presidential elections in parts of Ukraine under its control.

Mr Guterres said “attempted illegal annexation” of regions of Ukraine has “no validity” under international law.

“The United Nations remains steadfastly committed to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders, as per the relevant General Assembly resolutions,” he said.

According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which has been on the ground for 10 years to monitor and report on human rights violations, past so-called referendums and local elections have been conducted in a coercive environment.

Voting is taking place until Sunday at polling stations across the country.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, told council members Russia’s tactic of holding “sham elections” in Ukraine’s occupied territories [Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea] is “in fact, a pattern”.

“It’s a blatant propaganda exercise, undertaken in the hopes of somehow strengthening Russia’s false claim to the parts of Ukraine it illegally invaded,” she said, and proof of the tie between the Kremlin’s “external aggression and internal repression”.

Britain’s deputy envoy, James Kariuki, reminded the Security Council that the people “in these territories” voted overwhelming to join an independent Ukraine in 1991.

“There is no popular support for Russian rule – historically or today,” he claimed.

The election, which comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine enters its third year, holds little suspense as Mr Putin is running for his fifth term all but unchallenged.

His political opponents are either in jail or in exile; and Alexei Navalny, his fiercest critic, died in an Arctic penal colony last month.

“Like it or not today, presidential elections have begun for Russia,” said Moscow’s deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy.

“They will last for three days and they will be carried out including the new Russian regions, which reunited with our country as a consequence of free expression,” he continued.

“Our cause is righteous and we will try to triumph.”

Updated: March 16, 2024, 4:06 AM