Russia plans to run next year’s presidential election in the four regions of Ukraine that it annexed in 2022.
The Central Elections Commission said on Monday that voting would go ahead in Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, according to state news agency Interfax. The plan will test security because Moscow’s military does not control all of the regions, although it has stepped up efforts to extend its grip.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has already said that any Russian vote in the regions will be null and void and that it will prosecute any observers sent to monitor voting.
Moscow’s ability to hold the election in what it calls its “new territories” is politically important for the Kremlin, but it raises logistical and security challenges because of Russia’s limited control in the regions amid the ongoing war since February 2022.
Russia’s annexation claim was rejected as illegal by Ukraine and most countries at the United Nations General Assembly. The areas controlled by Moscow have been placed under martial law.
President Vladimir Putin confirmed last Friday, in comments to Russian soldiers who have fought in Ukraine, that he will run again for president in the March election, in which he faces no serious competition.
Fresh Russian offensive
Amid a campaign that has become bogged down in trench warfare, it appears unlikely that Moscow will be able to significantly increase its control of the four regions ahead of the vote.
However, it is clearly keen to try. The Ukrainian military reported on Monday that Russian forces had unleashed a massive new offensive on the city of Avdiivka, which sits just northwest of the city of Donetsk and is key to efforts to secure control of the wider Donbas region.
“The enemy launched yesterday massive assault actions with the support of armoured vehicles in Avdiivka and Mariinka directions,” military spokesperson Oleksandr Stupun told Ukrainian TV.
There was no immediate comment from Russia on the fighting in the area.
The front lines in eastern Ukraine have barely shifted over the past several weeks, but the fighting has been intense, Stupun said, adding that there had been 610 artillery shellings reported near Avdiivka in just the last 24 hours.
Russia is trying to encircle the small city, which now has only about 1,500 people left out of its pre-war population of some 32,000.
Russia launched a renewed bid to capture Avdiivka more than two months ago and Moscow’s forces have been inching forward on the flanks to try to cut supply lines.
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