Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that holding local elections in the temporarily uncontrolled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Donbas (eastern Ukraine) is impossible without Ukraine regaining full control over the uncontrolled section of the border with Russia.
Asked whether local elections could take place in the territories of Donbas that are now beyond Ukraine control, Zelensky replied: "No."
"I can give a more detailed answer. I told President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and President Putin that we will not have observers there if there is no border [under Ukrainian control], and we will not be able to control the elections. None of the Western observers will be able to come there. Therefore, elections will never be transparent there. From the point of view of security situation – there will be no free access for all [political] parties. And this's what must be out there – there must be a free choice of the Ukrainian people. The law enforcement system will not work there. We don't know what will happen if there is no border [controlled by Ukrainian government] between Ukraine and Russia," he said.
Read alsoLocal elections could be postponed on one condition – senior health officialZelensky stressed that Ukrainian authorities must regain control of the border in Donbas. "I say it openly. I believe that it can't be otherwise."
According to Zelensky, one of the clauses of the Minsk agreements stipulates a withdrawal of all illegal armed groups from the Ukrainian territory.
"How they will be withdrawn, where they should be taken out ... Then, the transfer of control over the border to us. And then we'll see that nothing else is happening, that there are no other militarized groups and that they are not heading back," he said.
Idea of local elections in occupied territories: Background
Russia sees the Minsk agreements as tools with which to break Ukraine's sovereignty. Its interpretation reverses key elements in the sequence of actions: elections in occupied Donbas would take place before Ukraine had reclaimed control of the border; this would be followed by comprehensive autonomy for Russia`s proxy regimes, crippling the central authorities in Kyiv. Ukraine would be unable to govern itself effectively or orient itself towards the West, according to Chatham House.
On July 15, 2020, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a resolution scheduling local elections across Ukraine for October 25. Legislators note that the elections in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas shall not be scheduled or held. On August 19, at a meeting of the delegates to the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas settlement, Ukraine's delegation chief, first president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk informed the team members of the appeal he had submitted to the Verkhovna Rada to consider the issue of the resolution's compliance with Law "On a special procedure for local self-government in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions" and a Package of Measures for the implementation of Minsk agreements.
On August 20, journalist Serhiy Harmash, another member of Ukraine's delegation representing certain areas of Donetsk region, opined that by "leaking" to the media a document demanding to cancel the decision of the Verkhovna Rada on local elections, Moscow, makes it impossible to fulfill the requirement or even put the relevant question before Parliament. Harmash believes that in this way Russia has deliberately driven the settlement process into a dead end, thus blocking a meeting of advisors to the Normandy Four (Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia) leaders earlier scheduled for late August.
On the same day, Kravchuk said that Russia was blocking the TCG work with a demand to repeal the resolution of the Verkhovna Rada on the impossibility of holding local elections in the occupied territories. At the TCG meeting on August 19, he said, representatives of the Russian Federation and their proxy forces in Donbas stated that they "do not object to the elections being held throughout Ukraine," but demand that the paragraph on the impossibility of voting in the occupied territories be repealed.
On September 11, Berlin hosted a meeting of political advisors to the leaders of the Normandy Four member states. According to the Office of the President of Ukraine, the advisors supported Kyiv's call to take exhaustive measures to extend a sustainable and comprehensive ceasefire in Donbas.