Russia’s Central Election Commission said on Sunday that the United Russia party, which strongly supports President Vladimir Putin, is leading local ballots in four Ukrainian regions seized by Russian forces.
The Kremlin says it annexed the eastern and southern regions late last year despite not having full military control over them, and that the so-called elections in Ukraine and its allies have been dismissed as fraudulent.
The data posted on the Commission’s website is said to show that voters in war-torn regions – where Ukraine has opened news fronts – have supported United Russia after the first reading.
Polls are also being held across Russia ahead of presidential elections planned for next year that are expected to extend Putin’s rule until at least 2030.
His opponents are in exile or jail and Moscow has criminalized his crackdown on the conflict in Ukraine and detained thousands for speaking out.
Authorities set up mobile polling booths ahead of the polls in Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and crowded Zaporizhzhia, where Moscow said a polling station was hit by a Ukrainian drone.
Elections are also being held in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian security services said they had compiled a list of “collaborators” helping to organize the election and vowed revenge.
– ‘Live in peace’ –
In Rostov-on-Don, a southwestern city near the Ukraine border that was attacked by drones this week, two voters told AFP that the conflict was their main concern.
“We just want to live in peace with our children,” said 40-year-old Nina Antonova.
“Everyone is worried about this one problem – the war. We have no other concerns,” said Anatoli, an 84-year-old pensioner who declined to give his last name.
In Moscow, which is hosting the mayoral election, there are very few campaign posters.
Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin – a Kremlin loyalist who has held the post since 2010 – won a “convincing” election, a senior election official said.
In his 13 years at the helm of Europe’s largest city, Sobyanin has presided over several mega projects that have transformed Moscow’s skyline.
In 2013, he was almost defeated by the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny.
Navalny, who vacated the vote behind bars, was jailed in 2020 on old fraud charges that his colleagues say is a prelude to ending his political career.
Sobyanin beat the grandson of a veteran Communist politician and a little-known candidate from a new party called “New Man”.
Moscow residents before the vote had praised Sobyanin for the city’s renewal.
“Yesterday, two metro stations opened,” 21-year-old student Rukhin Aliyev told AFP.
“Moscow is burning before our eyes.”
Musician Kirill Lobanov said Sobyanin has done “very well” as mayor, especially “in the last year” marked by the conflict.
Sobyanin has in recent months downplayed the increasing Ukrainian drone strikes on Moscow that have hit the Kremlin and hit the capital’s iconic business district.
– ‘High Alert’ –
In the regions of Ukraine that have seen frequent attacks by Kyiv this summer, the election is going ahead with extra security precautions.
The head of the electoral commission Ella Pamfilova said that the election has been postponed in Shebekino, a district of the Belgorod region that has been hit by the attack, “because of the government’s high alert”.
Observers say one of the few contests in Russia’s 11 regional regions has emerged in remote Siberian Khakassia, where governor Valentin Konovalov is seeking re-election.
The 35-year-old communist defeated a Kremlin-backed candidate in 2018 after a wave of rare protests in the sparsely populated mountainous region.
In this year’s campaign, he first faced Moscow-backed candidate Sergei Sokol, who presented himself as a Kremlin-decorated “hero” fighting in Ukraine.
Sokol dropped out at the last minute, citing health reasons. Konovalov is one of the few regional leaders not supported by the Kremlin in office.