Russia has concluded regional and municipal elections, including in regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia which formally joined the Russian Federation last year, delivering strong support for President Vladimir Putin.
The week-long polls which were wrapped up on Sunday, took place amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive to reclaim territories under Russian control.
In September 2022, Putin signed a decree for the formal accession of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia to the Russian Federation, which came after people in the four regions voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation in a referendum.
According to Russian officials, following last week's poll, Putin’s United Russia party received large majorities in the above-mentioned regions with more than 70 percent of the ballot in each territory.
Detailed voting figures were not immediately released.
The results mean that Moscow’s handpicked governors in the territories win full terms in office.
United Russia also won every provincial governor’s race it contested across Russia.
The Kremlin said opinion polls and numerous election wins show that Putin is by far the most popular politician in Russia and that elections are free and fair.
In the regions voting, however, electoral competition was limited as some candidates, including some from Russia’s main opposition Communist Party, were blocked from running by authorities.
Stanislav Andreychuk, co-chair of Golos, a so-called voter rights group designated a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, claimed that instances of vote rigging in many parts of the country showed that “these are not real elections.”
Luhansk and Donetsk, are collectively known as the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking center of coal mining and heavy industry until their economies were wrecked by the fighting from 2014 onwards.
Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February 2022, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the 2014 Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.