The United Nations expressed concern Friday over Russia's holding of "elections" in areas of Ukraine currently under Moscow's military control and condemned any actions that could further heighten tensions.
"These so-called elections in the occupied areas of Ukraine have no legal grounds," Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca told the Security Council. "We also recall that, as the occupying power, the Russian Federation is obligated under international humanitarian law to respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws of Ukraine in force in the areas that it occupies."
Russia has announced it will hold elections for Russian-installed legislatures from September 8 to 10 in areas it claims to have annexed last year.
The international community does not recognize the Kremlin's attempted annexation of the territories, having voted overwhelmingly in the U.N. General Assembly last October to reject it by a vote of 143 to 5.
"Regrettably, one year later, amidst continuing intense fighting and unacceptable attacks against Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure, these latest illegal attempts to organize new so-called electoral processes in the occupied areas of Ukraine further undermine the prospects for peace," the U.N.'s Jenca added.
'Staged expression of free will'
Ukraine's envoy said Kyiv would never recognize the outcome of what he called sham elections and urged the international community to impose tough new sanctions on Russia for the move.
"As terrorists force hostages to read a prepared text on camera, Russia makes the civilian population that has stayed in the occupied territories participate in a staged expression of free will," Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the council.
Russia's envoy said elections are taking place for representatives to regional parliaments and municipal bodies.
"Of course, in order for these four regions to fully integrate into Russia legally and administratively they need normal authorities that have the same powers as in other subjects of the Russian Federation," Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
No council member endorsed the Russian move, but some refrained from condemning it. However, several recalled the actions taken in the General Assembly rejecting annexation and attempted referenda, and warned elections could undermine a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
'A complete fraud'
The United States was more direct, calling the voting a propaganda stunt that would have predetermined and manipulated results.
"The Kremlin is rushing to fabricate electoral successes to hide its military losses in Ukraine from the Russian people," U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Robert Wood told the council. "The Kremlin knows full well its elections in Ukraine are a complete fraud."