Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.03.2018
Making Ukrainians vote for his re-election completes the destruction of Putin’s legitimacy as the president of Russia.
By invading Ukraine and then holding an ‘election’ on the Crimean part of Ukrainian territory he occupies, Putin deprives himself of democratic legitimacy as president of Russia. Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014 and then purported to have ‘annexed’ Crimea to the Russian Federation soon afterwards. Russian invader-occupiers have been persecuting Ukrainians who live in Crimea, particular the autochthonous people, the Crimean Tatars. Russia has deprived Ukrainians of their citizenship, conscripted them into the foreign Russian army, abducted Ukrainian activists and Crimean Tatar leaders, stolen land and property, and committed grave violations of international human rights law.
Among other crimes, the Russian invader-occupiers of Crimea force Ukrainians to participate in what the Kremlin calls ‘elections’ but which are in fact public affirmation exercises and demonstrations of Putin regime domination. Putin has no understanding of the power and legitimacy that derives from genuine, contested, free and fair elections. Putin therefore makes two fatal mistakes when it comes to the election theatre that he chooses to conduct instead of real elections. First, Putin doesn’t allow any opponent who could win the election to go up against him. Boris Nemtsov would definitely have been such an opponent if he had not been murdered three years ago, and there’s a chance that Alexei Navalny might have been such an opponent if Putin had not barred him from running. Choosing to face only ‘technical’ candidates, Putin comes off as weak: he is inadequate to the task of actually campaigning to win an election that he could possibly lose. Putin is not good enough to be a democratic politician: he has never argued in a debate with a worthy opponent and he has never persuaded a skeptical voter who was free to make up his or her mind. Second, Putin, Putin poisons his mandate by making people who are not Russians vote in a Russian election. Forcing Ukrainians in Crimea to vote in a his certain re-election will make Putin a leader who was ‘chosen’ by different classes of voters: Russians in Russia and Ukrainians in a territory which is under the de facto administration of Russia.
Ukraine has appealed to the United Nations to point out that Russian presidential elections in occupied Crimea violate the UN Charter. “The outcome of such illegal elections will be null and void,” wrote Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko. Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, had earlier said that he and Foreign Minister Klimkin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine would campaign to get the international community to refuse to recognize the ‘elections’ in Crimea and to introduce sanctions against their organizers. Canada and Estonia have already stated that they will not recognize Russian presidential elections in Crimea. Ambassadors in Kyiv from the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Russia’s plan to conduct elections in Crimea and they reaffirmed support for sanctions until Crimea is de-occupied by Russia. On March 14, the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, said: “From the point of view of Austria, it is clear that the annexation of Crimea is unlawful. And this is also the position of the European Union. Therefore, legitimate elections to the Russian Parliament and the elections of Russian President cannot take place in Crimea.”
The European Union came out strongly against illegal elections in Crimea. The foreign policy chief of the EU, Federica Mogherini, said that the EU will not recognize Russian presidential elections in the ‘annexed’ Crimea and she condemned the militarization of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian occupiers as a threat to the peace and security of the Black Sea region. In a written statement, Mogherini stated: “In violation of international humanitarian law, Russian citizenship and conscription in the armed forces of the Russian Federation have been imposed on Crimean residents.” She then condemned the construction of a bridge over the Kerch Strait (an international strait) without the consent of Ukraine and for imposing a maritime blockade on Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea (Berdyansk and Mariupol).
Putin will face silence or condemnation from real democracies over his certain ‘re-election’ on Sunday. He should have seen this coming, from the reception he got the last time illegal Russian elections were held in Crimea. On 18 September 2016, parliamentary ‘elections’ were held in Russia and in Russia-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. They were rigged so that Putin’s “United Russia” party won the overwhelming number of seats. Ukrainians in Crimea were compelled to vote in the foreign election. But the six so-called ‘deputies’ who were said to have been selected from Crimea were all placed on the sanctions list of the European Union, the United States, Canada and other democratic countries. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, was corrupted not only by its lack of a genuine democratic mandate but by the taint of Ukrainian deputies posing as Russian ones. Putin will be in the same quandary when he will claim to have won the presidential ‘election’ on Sunday. He will have no democratic legitimacy and his mandate will suffer the taint of the forced participation of the captive population of Russia-occupied Ukraine.
Putin has made a grave miscalculation. He has isolated himself and Russia further by his unrelenting aggression and violations of international law. Putin has taken away any chance he had of appearing to be the legitimate leader of Russia by the profoundly stupid act of invading Ukraine. No democratic country will recognize the Russian presidential election in Crimea. No country should recognize the re-election of Putin, period.