The government in Kiev and Western allies condemned the “elections” in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in advance as illegitimate. Moscow wants to underline its claim to power in the areas in the east and south of Ukraine. Russia declared the regions annexed in September 2022 after so-called referendums, but only controls parts of the regions militarily.

The regional and local elections were seen as a test for next year’s presidential election. Putin, who has been at the helm of Russia since 2000, wants to have his rule extended until at least 2030.

However, opposition parties that represent a real alternative to the government under President Vladimir Putin were not up for election: prominent government opponents are now either imprisoned or in exile. In Moscow, the mayor and Putin confidant Sergei Sobyanin, who has been in office since 2010, could be sure of his re-election – ten years ago he narrowly avoided an election defeat against the best-known Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny.

The Ukraine conflict was hardly an issue in the election campaign, but it overshadowed the election, especially in the regions near the border with Ukraine. Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the electoral commission, announced that the election in the border town of Shebekino in the Belgorod region, which is often hit by Ukrainian attacks, had been postponed due to the “increased danger situation”.

In the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, which has been the target of a drone attack in recent weeks, voters have cited the armed conflict with Ukraine as their top concern. “Above all, we and our children want to live in peace,” 40-year-old Nina Antonova told the AFP news agency. Everyone here has “only one problem: the war,” said 84-year-old pensioner Anatoly.