The first declarations of intent were made in the spring, and now Russia wants to urgently annex the occupied areas in southern and eastern Ukraine. Voting on the annexation is scheduled to take place simultaneously in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions and will be held for several days, from September 23-27. In a speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Moscow would recognize the results.

As with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia attaches great importance to appearing impartial. It is Moscow-appointed and militarily backed local Ukrainian politicians who have announced the so-called “referendums”.

Similar to the Crimea case eight years ago, the vote was brought forward. Previously, November 4th was mentioned as a possible date. Regional referendums are banned in Ukraine. There will be no independent election monitoring – like in Crimea.

So much for the parallels – but the differences outweigh the differences. Donetsk and Luhansk are separatist republics that have been effectively under Russian control since 2014 and were recognized as independent states by Putin shortly before the February invasion.

The Cherson and Zaporizhia regions, on the other hand, were almost completely or partially occupied by Russia only at the beginning of the invasion. Fighting continues in all four regions to this day.

A mock referendum was also planned in the areas east of Kharkiv that were occupied until a few days ago. The successful Ukrainian counter-offensive was apparently able to prevent this.

There are said to be regional differences in the votes, Russian media reports. In Donetsk and Luhansk there is only one question on the paper: “yes” or “no” to join the Russian Federation.

In Cherson and Zaporizhia, three questions are to be asked that can only be answered together with “yes” or “no”: leaving Ukraine, founding an independent state and joining Russia.

Voting is also taking place in Russia itself, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled since 2014. However, the majority, several million, fled to the Kyiv-controlled regions of Ukraine.

There is no provision for electronic voting. In the Zaporizhia region, among other things, mobile election teams with police escorts are to make home visits, said the head of administration Yevgeny Balizki appointed by Russia in an interview with the Russian state broadcaster Rossiya-24 on Tuesday.

After the union will be formalized, fighters from Donetsk and Luhansk will be included in the Russian army. Moscow’s plan for Cherson and Zaporizhia is different: volunteers will be recruited there. Attaching the new territories would give Russia the opportunity to use “all its forces in self-defense,” former President Dmitry Medvedev wrote in his Telegram channel.

Many observers interpreted this as a threat of nuclear weapons. However, there was a Ukrainian attack on a Russian military airport in the annexed Crimea in the summer, which did not result in an immediate reaction from Russia.

Russian political scientist Dmitri Oreshkin told DW that Russia’s original plan for what appeared to be an orderly vote was scrapped. This vote “during the war, when almost half the population fled” is not to be taken seriously.

There is no reliable information about the current mood in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. In a survey commissioned by the Berlin Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) in 2019, less than half of the residents of the separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk were in favor of annexation to Russia – a total of around 45 percent.

Many advocates support an autonomy status – around 27 percent. At the time, 54 percent of the people surveyed in these two regions advocated a return to Ukraine.

Autor: Roman Goncharenko

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The original of this article “What Putin wants to achieve with the mock referendums in Ukraine” comes from Deutsche Welle.