Russia in the process of conducting ‘sham elections’ in occupied areas of Ukraine: Blinken

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Russia is holding “sham elections” in its occupied territories in Ukraine in an attempt to give its presence more legitimacy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday during his visit to the war-torn nation.

Local and municipal elections are being held in four fully or partially occupied regions of eastern Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

“The Russian Federation is in the process of conducting sham elections in occupied areas of Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement. “The Kremlin hopes these pre-determined, fabricated results will strengthen Russia’s illegitimate claims to the parts of Ukraine it occupies, but this is nothing more than a propaganda exercise.”

Early voting ends Thursday and voting will run through the weekend in certain areas, according to Russian media.

Earlier in his visit, Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba while in Kyiv.

While on the surprise visit, he announced an additional $1 billion in aid for the country to support its war effort against Russian invasion. He also complimented the country’s counteroffensive against Russian forces in the southwest, which has picked up in recent days, saying the Ukrainian military has made “real progress.”

The elections come a year after Russia organized referendums to annex the four Ukrainian regions, a move that was denounced and not recognized by Ukraine and its allies, including the U.S. Nearly 150 countries denounced the annexations in a United Nations resolution.

The voting this week corresponds with Russian elections taking place across the country and features a slate of mostly pro-Kremlin candidates often running unopposed, The New York Times reported.

The Council of Europe also condemned the elections this week, saying the votes are “a flagrant violation of international law which Russia continues to disregard,” and create only an “illusion of democracy.”

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