Russia is organizing annexation referendums from this Friday, September 23 in the Ukrainian territories under Moscow’s control. Stakes, risks, fears… here is what is at stake.
Referendums on joining Russia begin this Friday in four regions of Ukraine controlled by Moscow and pro-Russian separatist forces, consultations condemned by Westerners who see it as a disguised annexation.
Ukraine and its allies have warned that they will not recognize the result of these referendums organized until Tuesday in the areas under Russian control in the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhya, representing 15% of Ukrainian territory. NATO has denounced a “travesty of voting”. The idea of these referendums has been mooted for months by Moscow, but Ukraine’s recent military victories have prompted the pro-Russian authorities to organize them earlier than planned. Here’s what you need to know.
1 – In which regions?
The referendums will concern four Ukrainian regions. All in the East and South of the country. It is first of all two breakaway regions of Lugansk and Donetsk. Located in the Donbass region, they have been plagued for several years by strong tensions and the desire for secession since 2014, the year of the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
In the south, the regions of Kherson and of Zaporizhia are the occupied territories by the Russian army since the beginning of the war. According to the latest demographic data from 2014, before the wars therefore, these four regions bordering both the Sea of Azov and the Russian border had just over 9 million inhabitants in all.
2 – How?
Russian electoral authorities fear an uprising during the referendums this Friday. In order to avoid any regrouping, a large part of the votes will be done for four days “in front of the houses“Door to door and for “security concerns” announced for example the Donetsk region. The polling stations will only open “on the last day” of the ballot. September 27.
In the South, “the vote starts tomorrow and nothing can prevent it”, warned on Russian television the head of the occupation administration of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, indicates Le Parisian.
3 – What are the challenges for Russia?
If these referendums follow the example of the 2014 one in Crimea, then the “yes” should prevail. Former President Dmitry Medvedev and current number two of the Russian Security Council indicated that these results would restore a “historical justice”. The Kremlin considers Ukraine as a part of Russia.
Obviously, the results will be widely disputed due to the strong suspicions of rigged votes.
Using these results, the Kremlin can immediately claim these territories as an integral part of Russia. The slightest attack or Western presence in these lands will then be a direct threat for Russia, which will not hesitate to replicate.
Other interest for Russia: increase his “reservoir” of men to enlist.
Sergei Gaïdaï, Ukrainian governor of the Lugansk region denounced “a masquerade“. “These will be visits apartment by apartment not to fix who is for or against, but identify men and enroll them. Under cover of this referendum, they are going to do a sort of census of the men available for mobilize them as cannon fodder for the front“, reports West France.
4 – What reactions?
The international community and Ukraine have widely condemned the holding of these referendums. Zelensky assures that the threat will be “liquidated” and the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Andriï Iermak, denounced a Russian “blackmail” motivated by “the fear of defeat”.
The Ukrainian president minimizes the importance of these referendums: today there was “pretty noisy news coming from Russia. But what happened? What was new compared to what has already been said before?” he wondered on Tuesday. “Our position does not change based on this noise or any other announcement. We will keep the pressure on,” he concluded.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his part judged that “these fictitious referendums were not acceptable”. The United States evokes “sham elections” and Emmanuel Macron denounced “a return to the age of imperialism and colonies”.
Even China, however presented as a strong ally by Vladimir Putin, called for respect for the territorial integrity of States. Turkey, which has been playing the balancing act since the start of the conflict, has referred to “illegitimate” annexation referendums.
5 – What threats?
As mentioned above, Russia wants to expand its territory. And quick. Through this annexation, Putin wants to make these results a turning point in his war. As of Tuesday, the head of the Russian state television channel RT, Margarita Simonian, estimated on Twitter that this week would be either “the antechamber of our imminent victory” or that of “nuclear war”.
“This week marks either the eve of our imminent victory or the eve of nuclear war,” tweeted Russia Today (RT) TV chief Margarita Simonian. Ultimatums and Russian blackmail detailed by@benvtk https://t.co/5i3nrwTKrN
— Ariane Chemin (@ArianeChemin) September 21, 2022
And it is here that the escalation of tensions is played out. Dmitri Medvedev warned that the annexation of Donbass would be “irreversibly” enshrined in the Constitution Russian and that “encroachment on the territory of Russia is a crime that allows us to use all forces in self-defense”, understand a possible use of nuclear weapons.