So there will be a vote. This Tuesday, September 20, the Russian leaders occupying certain territories in Ukraine announced that they would organize a referendum to decide on the future of the Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporijia regions. The contours of this initiative are still unclear, but dates have already been announced. The ballot will take place between September 23 and 27, 2022. Two days after its official announcement. The Russian eagerness raises many questions. What changes such an announcement? What will be the voting conditions? We take stock.
These votes, on the model of the one which formalized the annexation of the Crimean peninsula (south) by Russia in 2014, denounced by kyiv and the West, have been the subject of preparations for several months. But the timetable seems to have accelerated with the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the northeast of the country. Russian officials had previously mentioned the date of November 4, the day of Russian national unity. “This announcement is probably motivated by fear of the Ukrainian counter-offensive,” said British intelligence in its update of the day.
- How does Ukraine react?
Ukraine warned on Tuesday that the Russian threat would be “liquidated”, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Andriï Iermak, denouncing a Russian “blackmail” motivated by “the fear of defeat”. kyiv, after its territorial gains, now claims to believe in its chances of driving Moscow out of its lands. Officials tried to downplay the announcement. “There was some pretty loud news today from Russia. But what happened? What was new compared to what has already been said before?” , wondered Volodymyr Zelensky.
- How did Western countries react?
“The United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to allegedly annexed parts of Ukraine,” the White House security adviser said. The United States, which denounced “sham” elections, also spoke of “increased consequences” if the referendums were held.
For his part, the spokesman for the Pentagon, General Pat Ryder, stressed that even if Moscow formally annexed Ukrainian territories on the basis of these polls, Washington would continue its military support for Ukraine. “From my point of view, this is just a media operation intended to divert attention from the difficult situation in which the Russian army currently finds itself,” he said.
“These fictitious referendums are not acceptable,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. French President Emmanuel Macron, for his part, castigated, before the United Nations General Assembly, “a return to the age of imperialism and colonies”, shortly after describing the announced polls as “parody”.
For independent Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, the holding of these votes means that Putin wants to claim “the right to use atomic weapons to defend Russian territory”. Margarita Simonian, the boss of the Russian television channel RT, has judged that this week will be either “the antechamber of our imminent victory” or that of “nuclear war”.
Indeed, if these territories were officially recognized as Russian by Moscow, on the “legitimate” basis of a referendum – as biased as a referendum following an invasion may be – Putin could then justify Ukrainian “aggression” on his lands. The hypothesis raises fears of a strong intensification of the conflict, while Putin has just announced the mobilization of 300,000 reservists.
For researcher Anna Colin Lebedev, a leading specialist in Ukraine and the conflict with Russia, these events are a sign of a “clear political escalation intention” from Moscow. Even “a major escalation of the war”. “The mock referendums would give a legal basis for Russia to annex them. Any Ukrainian attack on these areas would then be an attack on Russian territory according to Russia,” she explained on Twitter.
- What is Russia planning to do?
For now, the Russian regime avoids mentioning referenda directly. But this Wednesday, September 21, the tone once again rose against the West. Russia is ready to use “all its means” of defense, including nuclear, to “protect” itself, warned Vladimir Putin. “We will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” the Russian president said in a recorded televised address. “It’s not a bluff,” he warned, after accusing the West of wanting to “destroy” Russia.
Tuesday morning, ex-president Dmitry Medvedev, current number two of the Russian Security Council, had judged that the “referendums” of annexation would restore “historical justice”, the Kremlin considering Ukraine as historically Russian. “Encroaching on the territory of Russia is a crime and if committed, it allows you to use all forces in self-defense,” he threatened.