September 5, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 519

Russia's Regional Elections In Occupied Parts Of Ukraine

September 5, 2023 | By A. Strandberg*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 519

To cement the Kremlin's authority, on June 15, 2023, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation reported that, on September 10, 2023, regional elections will be held in Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts of Ukraine. However, these elections will have certain peculiarities.

On October 19, 2022, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed an Executive Order introducing Martial Law in the Donetsk People's Republic, Lugansk People's Republic and the Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions. As a rule, martial law in Russia "allows" the "limitation of citizens' rights," including electoral rights, effectively banning any elections and referendums.

(Source: RIA Novosti)

Russia Amends Martial Law Legislation

In the spring of 2023, instead of lifting the war-time restrictions, the bill "On Martial law" was amended to permit elections and referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine.[1] The CEC got the right to call for elections during martial law after consultation with the Ministry of Defense and the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Many of these regions were seized by the Russian army during the "Special military operation" (SVO), so many people were displaced or became refugees due to the ongoing conflict. This raises the question of the formation of electoral lists. It will be a rather hard task to verify the validity of a voter's personal data, not to mention the dangers of hostilities for observers, as well as obstacles presented by untransparent mechanisms of remote electronic voting and the "mobile voter." Electronic voting might not be implemented during the September 10 voting, but the "mobile voter" procedure will be deployed.

Additionally, some of the residents of these regions are not Russian citizens. In 2019, a special simplified procedure for acquiring Russian citizenship was introduced for the residents of the Donbass republics – both the DPR and the LPR – by presidential decree.[2] In May 2022, residents of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts were granted the same right.[3]

Authorizing Deportation From Annexed Areas In Ukraine

Director of the Institute of Regional Problems Dmitry Zhuravlev mentioned that the simplified procedure for residents of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions for obtaining the Russian citizenship will "facilitate communication" between these territories and Russia. Political expert Konstantin Kalachev said that the decree would "equalize the rights of residents of these regions with Russians," give them social and security guarantees, and show that they can live "at the level of Russian standards."

However, Konstantin Basyuk, member of the Russian Federation Council, which is the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, from the Kherson oblast, threatened Ukrainian citizens who do not have Russian citizenship or residence permits with administrative persecution and deportation.[4] In April 2023, Putin signed a decree allowing the deportation of Ukrainian citizens residing in the annexed regions.[5]

The Moscow Times, a Russian daily published in English and Russian, wrote: "The move marks the latest chapter of the Kremlin's Russification campaign in occupied Ukraine that rights experts have slammed as a war crime. Starting July 1, 2024, Ukrainian nationals who opt out of Russian citizenship will be deported as foreign citizens, according to the text. The deportation decree also applies to the holders of passports issued by pro-Russian separatist governments in eastern Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which declared independence from Kyiv after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014."

According to the text, people without Russian citizenship will be considered by law to be foreigners permanently residing in Russia and can be expelled from the country in case of a "threat to national security." Such a vague wording allows this measure to be applied indiscriminately.


Meanwhile, Russia has begun early voting in the annexed territories. However, it is worth noting the election commissions announced that residents will be able vote using Ukrainian documents, including passports (in the case of those living in the LPR and DPR, this includes the passports of the Donbass republics), ID cards and driving licenses.[6]

As the authorities seem eager to draw Ukrainian citizens to vote, which, in fact, brings elections closer to the earlier referendums, this unusual arrangement may increase the number of potential voters and, consequently, the election turnout. The head of Kherson Election Commission Marina Zakharova stated that the authorities expect the turnout to reach 70 percent of about 600,000 eligible voters.[7] The choice of having Ukrainian citizens cast votes might indicate that the number of actual residents on these territories is much lower than the officially stated figures.

The more important thing is that, concerning transparency, it will be a hard task to track people who cast several votes by using Russian or Ukrainian passports, driver's licenses or even residence permits. Hence, the elections can easily be rigged. In addition, it is worth noting that, in the annexed territories, only the parties represented in the State Duma have nominated their lists of candidates to the local assemblies (i.e., "United Russia," "CPRF," "LDPR,” "A Just Russia – For Truth" and "New People"). It seems that the Kremlin, which possesses all the tools to authorize or ban the nomination of candidates, does not want to risk the appearance of opposition parties in the regions, or worse – among the deputies of the State Duma.


*Anatoly Strandberg is a MEMRI Senior Research Fellow.


[1], May 29, 2023.

[2], April 24, 2023.

[3], April 24, 2023.

[4], July 9, 2023.

[5] Decree "On the Specifics of the Legal Status of Certain Categories of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Russian Federation":

[6], August 2, 2023.

[7], August 7, 2023.

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