Alexander Van der Bellen has publicly condemned Moscow’s plan to hold national elections in Crimea, the Black Sea Region that Russia invaded and seized from Ukraine in March 2014.

“From the point of view of Austria, it is clear that the annexation of Crimea is unlawful. This is also the position of the European Union…legitimate elections to the Russian Parliament and the elections of Russian President cannot take place in Crimea.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko thanked Van der Bellen and the Austrian Government for their position, adding “do not send observers to Crimea, do not welcome and do not recognise the Russian elections in Crimea]”.

While visiting Crimea during a campaign rally, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked the region’s residents for practising “real democracy.”

Before arriving in Crimea, Putin visited the construction site of a bridge that is meant to link the peninsula with the Russian mainland across the Kerch Strait. Construction of the bridge started in 2016.

Putin, who is widely popular and enjoys fawning coverage on Russia’sstate-run TV, is expected to easily win during the March 18 election.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, meanwhile, called Putin’s visit to Crimea “an extremely dangerous provocation.” He urged the European Union to impose sanctions against “those who organised Russian election events on Ukrainian territory.”

Russia sent troops to Crimea and orchestrated the takeover of government agencies, before holding a referendum on March 16, a move that was denounced by the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

The referendum was deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries.

Russian lawmakers last year moved the date of the presidential election from March 11 to March 18, to coincide with the anniversary of Crimea’s annexation.