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Separatists in eastern Ukraine staged a farce with Sunday's disputed elections, with citizens lacking any real choice at the ballot box. The Minsk peace talks have been rendered null and void, says DW's Bernd Johann.
Ukrainians are still scared, terrorized by the war; for that reason alone, the vote should not be considered valid. Just last week, the self-proclaimed leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics used this excuse to discredit Ukraine's internationally accepted parliamentary elections. And yet, these hypocritical separatists have just held their own election - right in the middle of a war zone, Kalashnikovs at the ready and with backing from Moscow.
These were pseudo-elections, with the winners already fixed well in advance. Pro-Ukrainian parties and candidates were not allowed to take part in the so-called presidential and parliamentary elections. In Donetsk, even pro-Russian communists were barred from the electoral list, despite the city being one of its strongholds. In the Donetsk region, only two parties took part: Donetsk Republic and Free Donbass. Both groups have only one goal in mind: secession from Ukraine. And now they have secured, along with separatist groups in Luhansk, their uncompromising course.
Appearance of legitimacy
People living in these two regions in eastern Ukraine had no real choice. There was no political competition; the separatists kept to themselves.
With Russia's support a few months back, these people grabbed power almost overnight. And now, with these controversial elections, they want to give the appearance of legitimacy to their actions. These elections, however, were a farce.
Hundreds of thousands of people were unable to vote, driven from their homes or fleeing the fighting. For this reason alone, the election results do not reflect the political situation in the region.
In addition, there was no official electoral register, easily allowing some to cast multiple votes. Unverified online voting, already available in the days leading up to Sunday's vote, offered another opportunity for fraud.
Fear, intimidation and uncertainty
Many of those who have stayed in Donetsk and Luhansk have actually pinned their hopes on the separatists. What other option do they have, if they can't or don't want to move away? For some, the only reason to show up at the polling booth was the free food being distributed by election officials.
Most people in the region now live in a climate of fear, intimidation and uncertainty. Teachers and doctors, in addition to all other state employees, must pledge their loyalty to their new leaders, just to ensure they continue receiving their salaries. And it's been made clear to those who have decided not to support the separatists in the controversial vote that they will face personal and professional consequences.
The international community has refused to recognize these dubious elections. But that won't change anything: the separatists have Moscow's backing, thereby putting the peace process in great danger.
Sunday's disputed election violated the Minsk agreement, which separatists signed in the Belarusian capital along with representatives of the Kyiv government, in the presence of Russia and the EU, in early September. According to the agreement, local elections were planned to give more powers to the regions, under Ukrainian law. But nothing is likely to come of that now.
Neither the separatists, nor Russia, are sticking to the agreements. Instead, the secession of parts of eastern Ukraine seems to be inevitable. The Minsk peace process has been rendered null and void. New borders are being drawn in Europe, by force and with the help of pseudo-elections.