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Russia’s Strategic Breach of International Law: Pseudo-Elections in Occupied Ukraine

What is a Pseudo-Election and why is this tactic being used?


It is uncommon for one to consider a contravention of international law to be a purposeful act, let alone a strategic effort. Yet, this perception is one of optimism when regarding the recent actions implemented by Vladimir Putin’s government.


A pseudo-election is fundamentally a process in which voting takes place, but no changes to state policy or situations are altered. Commonly, and in this case, pseudo-elections acquire a preferential stance in favour of one specific group; this ultimately means that the elections are illegitimate and counterfeit.


It can be determined that in this case, pseudo-elections are being used as a tactic to employ Russian dominance in occupied Ukrainian regions and portray a sense of democracy in annexed areas.


Providing a veneer of democracy is vital to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is due to the fact that the Russian government has claimed that the invasion is to rid Ukraine of Nazis, therefore Russian authorities are trying to create a perception that Russia is fighting the good fight through trying to save citizens.


However, Ukrainian authorities and Western states refuse to validate this escalation of the conflict or recognise the results of the election due to the circumstances infringing upon binding international law.


This is testified by the UN Representative to the U.S. who named these elections as “nothing more than a propaganda stunt” which they predicted “to be predetermined and manipulated”.

What did the election involve?


In early September, citizens of Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories were provided with the opportunity to vote for representatives to advocate for their regions. The regions in question are Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia.


In the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia specifically, citizens and pro-Ukrainian activists have claimed that “poll workers make house calls accompanied by armed soldiers”. The concept of residents being motivated to take part in the election through implementing fear indicates that malpractice is in order.


Furthermore, it was reported by an anonymous resident of Kherson that locals were aware that the elections would not create positive change, if any at all and that this was a propaganda effort on behalf of Russian control over Ukrainian territory.


Ukrainian citizens believed that this would be due to the fact they were unsure of who the candidates were and what they stood for, knowing that stances would have been fabricated by Russian authorities.


The leading contender for the elections was the United Russia party, which dominates the Russian political sphere and is loyal to Putin. Other parties were also included in the ballots such as the Communist Party, yet these alternative parties were also led by Russian supporters.


This was later proved true as it was discovered that Russia’s ruling party had overriding power over who could be put forward for election. This is demonstrated as all of the representatives that had been presented for the elections are of a pro-Russian political stance. In addition to this, 42 per cent of the candidates were in fact Russian citizens who have no ties to the regions that in theory, they are to be upholding.


How does this breach international law?


Public International Law is a legal framework that provides a foundation for the ways in which elections should be composed and carried out.


According to Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); every citizen in a given region must acquire and be able to utilise the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives”. As citizens of the occupied regions are not being provided with the option of freely chosen representatives, this law has been breached.


The ICCPR also states that these representatives are to be elected through genuine periodic elections. This requirement is also not being met as these are not genuine elections, but rather assertions of power.


Additionally, Russian authorities are being investigated by political analysts who “say there are grounds to suspect the election commission will manipulate the vote” as “reports of residents being detained for failing to cast their ballot are designed to scare others into voting”.


Such an accusation, if found to be true, would result in another breach of international law. This would be due to the above article but also Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR which guarantee the protection of freedom of expression.


How has this information been received in the West?


As previously alluded, the holding of pseudo-elections in occupied Ukraine has been received with resentment in Western states. Such states have therefore publicly denounced the results of the vote through statements. This is due to the circumstances constituting a violation of international law and an aversive attitude towards standards regarding the respect of freedom of expression. Standards that have been upheld for many years in the West and much of central Europe and Asia.


G7 Foreign Ministers released a statement regarding the matter, stating that this will not change the prodigious degrees of support that Western societies are offering Ukraine. This statement also called for other states to ostracise and politically alienate Russia for the illegal actions that have taken place since the invasion of Ukraine.


This was further conveyed through a comment made by the European Commission which stated that; “We strongly reject this further futile attempt by Russia to legitimise or normalise its illegal military control and attempted annexation of part of Ukrainian territories”.


Despite the negative retorts upon these pseudo-elections, it can be argued that the Russian effort to dominate Ukrainian land politically has marginally been successful. This limited extent is only accredited to the fact that Russian politics has been able to assert a presence in Ukraine.


However, attempts to portray democracy have ultimately failed. Many individuals, whether they be Ukrainian citizens or international witnesses - see the genuine motives of the Russian authorities. The mirage of democracy and positive change is largely contested and in turn, represents the evasive political nature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


As the situation between Russia and Ukraine continues to present itself, one may expect to see changes in the enforcement of international law. An increase in binding intergovernmental agreements may be enforced in order to assure that strategies such as pseudo-elections can no longer assert political power over invaded, innocent citizens.


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