Image: hromadske


As history has proven, the decline of democracy leading to the rise of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes is threatening for the citizens of those states, and far beyond. Undemocratic governments challenge the civilized world by launching hybrid or overt full-scale acts of aggression, occupying territories, deporting citizens, committing other international crimes, and flagrantly violating international humanitarian law. Authoritarian and totalitarian countries are destroying the values of the liberal democratic world order.

At the same time, in the foreign information space and on various discussion platforms in democratic countries all over the world, messages are shared on a rolling basis, trying to pressure Ukraine to hold elections in conditions of war. This position is supported by the fact that Russia is holding its "elections." Therefore, we need to explain why the Russian elections have nothing to do with a genuine democratic vote, and therefore, they do not lead to the formation of legitimate authorities not only in the occupied territories but also throughout Russia. With this in view, we need to focus on three key points.

1. Non-alternation or formal alternation of power

Vladimir Putin has officially been the President of the Russian Federation for 20 years now. It was only in 2008–2012 that this position was nominally held by Dmitry Medvedev. Therefore, with account for Putin's office as a prime minister, he has been ruling the Russian Federation for about 26 years.

During this time, constitutional changes were tailored to meet one person's needs. In 2008, the presidential term was increased from 4 to 6 years to reduce the number of elections and subsequently limit the ability of citizens to change power. Later, in 2020, based on the proposal from an astronaut Tereshkova, Putin was allowed to run two more times. A propos, the latest constitutional changes are purely individual: the powers of other presidents after Putin will be limited to two terms in general, rather than subsequently, unless the Russian authorities (with a tradition of authoritarian leadership) change the Constitution again or repeal it.

In its “Report on Term Limits. Part 1: Presidents,” The Venice Commission emphasizes that in the presidential and semi-presidential systems, the limitation of the presidential term of office is a factor restraining the risk of abuse of power by the head of the executive branch.

Term limits usually apply to the Head of State/President of the Republic, while they are less common for members of parliament. This distinction arises from the different nature of the executive and the legislative branch and from the different relationships among them. The literature emphasizes the “danger of abuse of power by incumbents who seek to prolong their tenure.” Some authors state that presidential regimes give the incumbent an excessive advantage when they run for re-election. Therefore, term limits “are meant to prevent incumbents from taking advantage of their position in order to remain in power” and to guarantee an even playing field for other candidates. To put it in the words of the Venice Commission, “in a presidential system, the unlimited mandate creates the danger of having a 'republican monarch'. Russia is a vivid example of such a danger because after 2014, Putin's desire to restore Russia's position as an imperial state has been clearly traced. Moreover, the constitutional changes of 2008 and 2020 confirm his attempts to maintain his power for as long as possible.

Thus, Putin's rule will actually last a lifetime, which is contrary to the democratic spirit of alternation of power. Elections in the Russian Federation look like formalities since the winner is likely to be known in advance.

In this regard, it is interesting to explore the experience of the United States, where the 1787 version of the Constitution did not set any limits on the number of terms in the presidential office. A co-creator of the US Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, explained this by the fact that “we will always see people of outstanding ability and virtue,” so “the president should be elected for a term of four years and be re-elected as many times as the people of the United States consider necessary to trust him.” It should be emphasized here that this approach was based on the belief that such elections would be democratic, and competitive, among other things.

At the same time, the first US leader, George Washington, established a tradition when, regardless of his popularity, the president shall voluntarily leave after the second term. In fact, it worked until Franklin Roosevelt, who was one of the most popular US presidents and held the office for four consecutive terms. However, after his death, the 22nd Amendment (“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice”) appeared in the US Constitution so that the situation with Roosevelt does not repeat in the future.

2. Lack of democratic rights and freedoms, and therefore political competition and media freedom as the basis for free elections

 In its 2022 report, the Economist noted that Russia recorded the largest decline in democracy among all countries in the world, dropping 22 positions, to 146th place. This happened because of the state's firm control over the media and the suppression of anti-war protesters. Therefore, the political regime in Russia is defined as a steadfast authoritarian regime. 

Although the 2023 report has not yet been published, no democratic trends have emerged in Russia since that time. On the contrary, cementing the government in the context of the ongoing armed aggression against Ukraine strengthened authoritarian (totalitarian) traditions.

Lack of political competition

In fact, in 2023 the campaign for the 2024 presidential "elections" began in Russia where Putin's political rivals are no longer allowed to run. For example, the CEC refused to register a journalist Yekaterina Duntsova as a candidate. According to media reports, this happened because of her anti-war stance. In addition, they had eliminated such political rivals of Putin as Alexei Navalny (first imprisoned, and then killed), Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Garry Kasparov (in exile), Boris Nemtsov (killed) and others.

Paragraph 13 of the Report on an Internationally Recognized Status of Electoral Observers (CDL-AD (2009) 020) emphasizes that many “new” democracies were born in previous authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, where elections were well known. However, they were not an instrument of freedom but rather of reinforcing oppression and political domination. The opinion of the Venice Commission on the draft ACEEEO Convention on Election Standards, Rights and Freedoms of 2004 states (paragraph 13): “The suffrage is well known, but the functioning of the whole system may not be democratic. The emphasis is not as much in the suffrage as in elections as a whole. Democratic elections certainly require universal, free, secret, direct, and equal votes. However, there is more to it. Without real pluralism, multi-partism, freedom not to participate, without observers […] the votes can be considered useless in democratic terms. Elections can be fraudulent.”

Without the real political competition, but with the use of repressive mechanisms (imprisonment, murder, etc.) to oppositional forces, Russian elections cannot be considered democratic regardless of the formal adherence to certain procedures.

Controlled voting

Russia has already announced that, the same as during the autumn campaign of local "elections", mobile polling stations will operate throughout the country. Previously, they were used for controlled voting and falsification. Read about the theater of absurdity of the previous campaign here.

The Explanatory Report of the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters of the Venice Commission (paragraph 27) states that freedom of voters to express their wishes primarily requires strict observance of the voting procedure established by law. However, electors should be protected from threats or constraints liable to prevent them from casting their votes or from casting them as they wish, whether such threats come from the authorities or from individuals; the state is obliged to prevent and penalize such practices. Furthermore, the voter has the right to an accurate assessment of the result of the ballot, and the state should punish any election fraud.

The lack of real tools for verifying the authenticity of elections, unbiased observation campaigns and independent election administration bodies lead to falsification of voting results and do not allow to effectively counteract fraud and violations in elections.

Lack of free media

The state exercises widespread control in the media space through Roskomnadzor, restricts the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression of views by the repressive influence of law enforcement and judicial bodies. In Russia, all independent media have already been terminated, majority of independent journalists have been forced to leave the country, and as a result of the adoption of laws directed against media freedom, journalists receive disproportionately harsh prison sentences. Facebook and Instagram are also banned in Russia, and YouTube remains at risk of being banned.

Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (now OSCE) refers to the elements of justice essential for the full expression of the dignity inherent in the human person and the equal and inalienable rights of all people, including free elections held at reasonable intervals by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedure, under conditions which ensure in practice the free expression of the opinion of the electors in the choice of  their representatives (clause 5.1).

Neither the free formation of voters’ will, nor its free expression on the day of voting as components of the principle of free elections is guaranteed in Russia. After all, free formation of will is impossible without political competition and free media, and free expression of will is impossible in conditions of controlled voting. Likewise, persecuting political competitors, preventing them from running for office and restricting access to the media violates the principle of equal elections, because it creates an advantage for one specific candidate, which is Putin. Under such conditions, the key postulate laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting – the will of the people, expressed freely and honestly in the course of periodic and true elections, is the basis of the power and legitimacy of any government – is not fulfilled by Russia, which leads to delegitimization of its authorities.

The 2006 Venice Commission’s Report on Electoral Law and Electoral Administration in Europe (paragraph 90) regarding the pre-election period states that the basic idea is that the political parties and candidates should act on a “level playing field”. According to the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters, it is necessary to ensure equality of opportunity for different candidates and parties, at least as much as possible. It is necessary for the state to be impartial towards the parties and candidates and to apply the same law uniformly to all. This neutrality requirement applies to the electoral campaign and coverage by the media, especially the publicly owned media, as well as to public funding of parties and campaigns. Moreover, it is important that electoral campaign takes place in an environment that ensures freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. These freedoms must be protected to allow political organization and electoral campaign and to inform citizens about parties, candidates and issues. Parties and candidates should be free to announce their programs and political positions to voters across the country.

However, such key rights for the principles of equal and free elections as freedom of expression, movement, assembly and association are not respected in Russia, although they are guaranteed not only by the documents of the Council of Europe, but also by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.

3. Illegal elections in the occupied territories as evidence of the illegitimacy of Russian elections

Firstly, the absence of sovereign power of the Russian Federation over Ukrainian territories does not allow the occupying state to appoint and hold legitimate elections in them, and all elections in these territories appointed by the aggressor state outside its jurisdiction that violate the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine are illegitimate a priori.

Secondly, the legitimacy of the entire result of the presidential election of the Russian Federation will be called into question by the very inclusion of ballots received in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, especially if, given that these are national elections, it will be impossible to separate them from the general result, or their number will be equal to or greater than the difference between the winner and the runner-up.


Non-democratic presidential elections, like the authoritarian (totalitarian) regime in Russia in general, delegitimize the Russian government. One of the main tools with which the people empower the government is democratic elections, because trust in the results lies at their core, and therefore, the real recognition of the government by the people without fear or coercion. In return, in conditions of immutability of power, lack of democratic rights and freedoms (in particular, free political competition and free media), the result of such elections cannot correspond to the true will of the people, and therefore leads to the illegitimacy of Putin as the President of Russia.

In this regard, in order not to discredit the institution of democratic elections in the eyes of the entire civilized world, we call on the President, the Verkhovna Rada, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, foreign countries and their election administration bodies, as well as international organizations, international election observation missions:

  • not to recognize the results of the non-democratic “elections of the President of Russia”,
  • not to recognize the powers of the self-proclaimed head of state,
  • not to participate in the observation,
  • not to facilitate the opening of foreign polling stations.