Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 07.02.2018
Putin’s rule lacks democratic legitimacy. He will not get it in the upcoming elections because Ukrainians in Crimea will be made to vote as if they were Russians. The illegitimacy of voting taking place in Crimea will poison the ‘victory’ of Putin.
Putin’s senseless invasion and occupation of Ukraine is poison to the last semblance of democracy in Russia. On 18 September 2016, Russia conducted an election for the State Duma which was neither free nor fair. A fatal blow to the legitimacy of the vote was that it was conducted on the territory of Ukraine, in temporarily occupied Crimea. The six deputies who were supposedly elected from Crimea were sanctioned by Canada, the United States, and the European Union, who all refused to recognize the legitimacy of the election in Crimea. The presence of the sanctioned deputies from Crimea in the State Duma taints the entire assembly, and any claim that parliamentary government might exist in Russia.
Because Putin doesn’t understand democracy, it is hardly surprising that he is about to make another blunder. Russia will soon have an affirmation exercise where Russians will be expected to demonstrate their approval of Putin. They’re calling it a presidential election and it will be held on March 18. The press is focussing on the exclusion of Alexei Navalny as a candidate as evidence of the undemocratic nature of the exercise. They should be focussing on the forced participation of Ukrainians in Crimea in the vote. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes the March 18 vote not only undemocratic but illegitimate.
The illegality of conducting a vote on the territory of Ukraine and pretending it is a part of Russia taints the entire Russian vote. The poison of Putin’s invasion and occupation of Crimea will spread to the entire body politic of the Russian Federation.
Elections in Russia will not be competitive. They will be neither free nor fair. The media landscape is wholly biased in favour of Putin. The outcome of a victory for Putin will never be in doubt. In fact, the exercise being conducted in Russia cannot be called an election at all. What is going on is affirmation theatre, where Russians will be expected to show that to love Russia is to love Putin.
Democratic elections are not happening in Russia, so it makes little sense for the OSCE to ‘observe’ as if they were. No democratic government should congratulate Putin when Russia’s affirmation exercise goes his way, because that is not an election victory in any sense. Putin has made a choice to take Russia in the direction of North Korea – the international community should shun Putin as it shuns Kim Jong-un.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will have its next session in April – too late for the I-love-Putin affirmation exercise in Russia on March 18. The Ukrainian delegation announced that on their agenda will be the illegitimacy of the Russian presidential election in occupied Crimea. First Deputy Chair of the Verkhovna Rada, Iryna Gerashchenko, said in an interview with Holos Ukrainy that the occupation of Crimea by Russia must be brought to the attention of PACE, as well as NATO and the OSCE. She said: “Russia defiantly wants to hold these elections in occupied Crimea, pursuing there a policy of forcible passportization of Ukrainian citizens, handing them Russian passports and forcing them to participate in the elections.”
Stealing Ukrainian citizenship from residents of Crimea and forcing on them Russian citizenship weakens Putin’s power. By invading Ukraine, then committing the gross human rights violation of forced passportization, and then holding an affirmation exercise on the occupied territory of Ukraine, Putin removes from himself all democratic legitimacy.
The Russian delegation will not return to PACE. Russians will continue to be banned from NATO HQ in Brussels. The Group of Seven leading industrial countries will not become the Group of Eight again. Sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas will remain.
The wise thing to do would be for Putin to leave Crimea and Donbas. The wise thing to do would be for Putin to hold free and fair elections in the Russian Federation. But Putin is not a wise man.