Occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine are to be annexed by Russia through referendums. The whole process is reminiscent of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The relevant intention was expressed for the first time last spring. Now Russia wants to summarily annex the occupied territories to Ukraine. The annexation vote will be held simultaneously in the regions Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia and it is going to last for several days, from September 23 to 27. It mainly concerns the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech on Wednesday that Moscow would recognize the results.
As was the case in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, Russia is diligently trying to appear uninvolved in the whole process. However, the Ukrainian politicians who announced the news of the so-called referendums in these regions are appointed by Moscow. Similarly, in the case of Crimea eight years ago, the vote was finally expedited. Initially, November 4 was set as a possible date. Regional referendums are banned in Ukraine. As in the case of Crimea, independent monitoring of the election will not be allowed.
Voting after being escorted by… policemen
However, the differences outweigh the similarities with Crimea in this case. The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have been effectively under Russian control since 2014 and were recognized by the Russian president as independent states shortly before the February invasion. On the other hand, the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia were completely or partially under Russian occupation at the start of the war. Fighting in all four areas continues to this day. A “virtual” referendum is also planned in the areas east of Kharkiv, an area that was under Russian occupation until a few days ago.
According to Russian media there will be some differences: In Donetsk and Luhansk there will be only one question on the ballots and it will concern the accession to the Russian Federation. In Kherson and Zaporizhia, three issues will be raised: Secession from Ukraine, the creation of an independent state and accession to Russia. The vote will also be held in Russia, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have lived since 2014. However, the majority of Ukrainians, numbering several million, have fled to areas still controlled by Kyiv. However, the possibility of electronic voting is not foreseen.
In the Zaporizhia region mobile election crews with a police escort will, among other things, make house visits, Moscow-appointed head of administration Yevgeny Balitsky told Russian state broadcaster Rossiya-24 on Tuesday.
There is no reliable data on voting intentions in the territories occupied by Russia. In a 2019 survey by the Berlin Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), less than half of the residents of the autonomous regions of Donetsk and Luhansk favored an annexation to Russia (around 45% overall). Many of them support an autonomous regime (27%). At the time, 54% of respondents in both regions were in favor of joining Ukraine.
DW – Roman Gonharenko/ Chrysa Vakhcevanou
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