KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine on Saturday strongly condemned Russian plans to hold presidential elections next spring on occupied territory, declaring them “null and void” and pledging to prosecute any observers sent to monitor them.

Russia’s upper house set the country’s presidential election this week for next March, and chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko said residents in four occupied Ukrainian regions would be able to vote for the first time.

Russia claims to have annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions in the east and south of Ukraine during referenda last year dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a sham, but does not fully control any of them.

It also seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We call on the international community to resolutely condemn Russia’s intention to hold presidential elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories, and to impose sanctions on those involved in their organization and conduct,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It also warned countries against sending observers to the “pseudo-elections”, saying offenders would “face criminal responsibility”.

“Any election in Russia has nothing to do with democracy. They serve only as a tool to keep the Russian regime in power,” the ministry said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he would run for president again, a move expected to keep him in power until at least 2030.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; editing by Clelia Oziel)

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