Levant referendums in Russia-controlled Ukraine: what you need to know

FOur Ukrainian region occupied by Russia will vote on whether to join the Russian Federation or remain part of Ukraine, starting Friday. Moscow announced that the partially Russian-controlled regions of Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhia and Donetsk will vote in referendums from September 23 to September 27. Ukraine and the international community have expressed outrage that the elections will certainly be “sham”. , similar to the 2014 referendum in Crimea. The results of the 2014 referendum were widely disputed as fraudulent and rejected by foreign powers, however, and Russia proceeded to formally annex Crimea a few days later.

The former head and current deputy of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said that the referendums would redraw these lands to Russia, that this would be “irreversible” and that it would allow the Kremlin to use “all possible force for self-defense.”

Here’s what you need to know:

Why is Russia calling for referendums?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine lasted seven months, during which time Ukrainian forces demonstrated much greater resilience than Russia expected.

“They started preparing for this referendum when they first thought they would take Kyiv in three days and have a military parade with Putin,” says Konstantin Sonin, a professor at the University of Chicago with expertise in Russian political and economic issues.

Russian President Vladimir Putin began the invasion as an attempt, he claims, to liberate Ukrainians from an oppressive regime. Part of the justification is built on the idea that there is a large ethnic Russian population in Ukraine who needs to be reunited with Russia.

“In Ukraine, there are millions of [ethnic] Russians. There are also tens of millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. “Putin constantly confuses these two groups,” Sonin says. It is a relatively small percentage of people who want to be in Russia. It’s a smaller share, who want to fight for this.”

Opinion polls show that very few people in Ukraine have a desire to join Russia, but experts argue that Putin’s war motive is to preemptively eliminate any chance of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“Nothing we have seen in the past several months or years indicates that the vast majority of ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking people in Ukraine want to be part of the Russian Federation,” Thomas Graham, former special assistant to the president and senior director of Russian affairs under George W. Bush, says. for supportessays com magazine.

I think the decision to take this step is related to the setbacks that Russia has experienced on the battlefield in the past several days and weeks. It is a response to the pressure the Kremlin is feeling from hard-line critics within Russia to be more aggressive in carrying out a war in Ukraine,” Graham adds.

Russians are tired of a war that Putin denies is a war at all. The conflict, described as a “special military operation”, lost support in Russia after the recent losses.

By annexing these lands, they become part of Russia itself, and what used to be a ‘special operation’ in Ukraine to defend the Donbass and Russian-speaking Ukraine has now become a struggle—perhaps a war in itself—to defend Russian lands, Graham says.

Russia’s 1993 constitution stipulated that the country would be a democratic republic after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country has frequent elections, but there has been a democratic decline in recent years. Putin’s authoritarian regime suffers from documented corruption, human rights abuses backed by censored media, and election tampering. Although this suppresses most political opposition, the illusion of fair elections is a long-standing tenant in Russian politics, according to research groups, such as the Brookings Institution.

How will the vote work?

Sonin and Graham make clear that the referendum results would certainly be overwhelmingly in favor of Russia’s accession – but also entirely fabricated. “Since 2019, in every election in Russia, it no longer represents anything,” Sonin says.

Russia has a well-documented history of voter suppression. “That’s not what the real data looks like,” says Sonin, as he describes the 2014 Russian referendum in Crimea, a precursor to the territory’s annexation. Official results boasted that 96% of voters wanted to join Russia and that 83% of voters took part.

“The data has an artificially low variance. Essentially, all the different circuits report similar uptake and similar results,” Sonnen says.

Logistically, experts tell supportessays com that the referendums will likely mirror the 2014 Crimea referendum that will be heavily controlled by the Russian military, and turnout will be limited, given that millions of residents have vacated these Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories once the conflict escalates.

“The authorities have had almost no time to check the voter list, to set up proper polling facilities (and) to make sure electoral conditions are in place so they can adjudicate any disputes,” Graham says.

Are referendums an introduction to annexation?

Russia has not officially announced that it will annex any of these Ukrainian territories, but experts say the referendums are a sign that annexation may come next.

The annexation may be cause for celebration within Russia, but “the international community will not recognize it,” Graham says. Ukraine and its Western allies, including the United States, have said they will not recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

However, if the Ukrainians were annexed, the way of life of the Ukrainians in these occupied territories could change drastically overnight. “All Russian laws will now be enforced in these areas, and they will move more quickly to create Russian administrations,” Graham says.

They have already changed education to the Russian curriculum. The goal is to try to make these areas legally and in practice look like a normal Russian area,” Graham adds.

Will it change the course of the war?

Ukraine has said it will not back down in response to the referendums or the threat of annexation. The country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that the referendums would not prevent Ukraine from continuing “liberation of their lands. Sonnen and Graham agree that this move is unlikely to change the course of the war in any significant way.

However, one factor that will change if Russia legally recognizes parts of Ukraine as parts of the Russian Federation – even without any international recognition – is that the Russian doctrine on nuclear weapons will come into force in these territories. This means that if Ukrainian forces attack Russian forces within those annexed territories, the Kremlin will see this as an attack on Russia itself, and has a legal basis for using nuclear force to defend itself.

This change, Graham says, could “deter the West from providing Ukraine with more advanced equipment and in greater numbers – weapons that Ukrainians have used so effectively on the battlefield.”

Putin has been in power for 18 years, and has indicated that he intends to seek another term in 2024. The referendums may not radically change the war, but they prove that Putin will do everything in his power to win.

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