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Ukraine condemns Russian plans for elections on occupied territory

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Ukraine has strongly condemned Russian plans to hold presidential elections next spring on occupied territory, declaring them “null and void” and pledging to prosecute any observers sent to monitor them.

Local residents stand near their apartment building and cars damaged during a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, December 8, 2023. Picture: Reuters, Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy

KYIV – Ukraine on Saturday strongly condemned Russian plans to hold presidential elections next spring on occupied territory, declaring them “null and void” and pledging to prosecute any observers sent to monitor them.

Russia’s upper house set the country’s presidential election this week for next March, and chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko said residents in four occupied Ukrainian regions would be able to vote for the first time.

Russia claims to have annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions in the east and south of Ukraine during referenda last year dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a sham, but does not fully control any of them.

It also seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We call on the international community to resolutely condemn Russia’s intention to hold presidential elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories, and to impose sanctions on those involved in their organisation and conduct,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It also warned countries against sending observers to the “pseudo-elections”, saying offenders would “face criminal responsibility”.

“Any election in Russia has nothing to do with democracy. They serve only as a tool to keep the Russian regime in power,” the ministry said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he would run for president again, a move expected to keep him in power until at least 2030.

ZELENSKIY TRAVELLING TO ARGENTINA

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was meanwhile travelling to Argentina on Saturday to attend the inauguration of new Argentine President Javier Milei, his first trip to Latin America.

Zelenskiy’s trip, announced on the Telegram messaging app, will focus on Ukraine’s long-standing bid to secure the support of countries in the Global South in Ukraine’s 21-month-old war against Russia.

The Ukrainian president said he had met the prime minister of the West African country of Cape Verde, Ulisses Correia e Silva, en route to Argentina and thanked him for “condemning Russian aggression” and supporting Ukrainian initiatives.

Zelenskiy hopes to convene a “global peace summit” and has promoted a peace plan rooted in the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and recognition of its post-Soviet borders of 1991.

Kyiv has been trying to build ties with African, Asian and Latin American governments, but has found its support for Israel at odds with the positions of some of those countries.

Ukrainian media speculated this week that Milei’s inauguration could serve as a backdrop for a meeting between Zelenskiy and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to resolve differences over Ukraine’s bid for European Union membership.

An EU summit next week will decide on whether to start talks with Ukraine and neighbouring former Soviet republic Moldova – as recommended by the EU Executive Commission – on their bids to secure membership.

A decision must be taken unanimously and Orban has repeatedly voiced opposition to starting the talks now.

Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said this week that he was trying to arrange a suitable time for a meeting between the president and Orban.

Like the new Argentine president, Orban is an advocate of right-wing views. In a posting on Saturday on X, formerly Twitter, he said he had already met Milei. Orban hailed the electoral success of the right “not only in Europe but all around the world.”

– REUTERS

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