There is no turning back: Russians try to gain a foothold with referendums

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On September 30, according to the results of the “referendums”, Putin signed agreements on the annexation of the territories of 4 Ukrainian regions.

The Russians have been postponing the holding of the “referendums” in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Luhansk and Donetsk regions several times during the summer, hoping to seize the regions completely. But after the successful counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Kharkiv region, the occupying administration announced the dates of the “referendums”, trying to legitimize the occupation and the continuation of the war for full control over certain regions as soon as possible. As a result, a dangerous farce took place within 5 days, September 23-27.

The procedures for holding those referendums in 2022, as well as in 2014, violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The illegal military presence of the Russians, which contradicts the UN Charter, is the key reason that invalidates the results of the “referendums” (applies to both the 2014 and 2022 referendums). There can be no question of any “expression of the will of the people” when the armed men of the aggressor country control the turnout at the polling station. In the occupied Ukrainian regions Russian soldiers, armed with assault rifles, went over apartments and demanded a signature on a fictitious form. Before the sham voting Russians massively intimidated civilians and imposed on them the belief of “treason” to Ukraine (the narrative implied rumors that all residents of the occupied territories would be considered traitors in Ukraine for cooperating with the occupiers and would be punished accordingly, therefore “there is no turning back”). Inhabitants of occupied settlements couldn’t verify and dismantle the claims, due to information blockade and the absence of an internet connection.

In Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia region, occupiers held a spectacle voting of Grigory Potyomkin, Russian military leader and favorite of Catherine the Great, who worked under colonization of Ukrainian steppes and is considered to be the founder of the city. The figure of Russian empire times, his image is supposed to represent the historical bond with Russia in the farce referendum.

The Russians began to collect data on future “voters” immediately after the occupation of the cities, taking advantage of the humanitarian crisis created by their troops. They forced residents to provide personal information and issue Russian passports in exchange for pensions, social benefits and humanitarian aid (food, medicine, etc.; It must be noted, that those who could not afford to leave the territories in the first place, remained in the occupied territories). And yet, even under such conditions, Ukrainians showed the world their stance at rallies and in the organization of the partisan movement, in particular in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Participants of several thousand people rally against the occupiers and for a united Ukraine on Freedom Square in Kherson. March 5, 2022. Photo: FB Media platform “Vhoru”

The location of the “polling stations” was not particularly disclosed by the Russians, allegedly for security reasons, but the Russians “were not afraid” to massively organize the “roadside stations”, which were located elsewhere on the streets and open-air markets. The secrecy of the ballot in these conditions is, for sure, non-existent.
According to international law, any referendum should not be biased, and shouldn’t engage in one-sided campaigning. Nevertheless, on all campaign posters and billboards due to the occasion of the referendums, there is exclusively pro-joining propaganda.

Russian propaganda during the referendums: “Choose future”, “Russia – is happiness”, Russia – means Memory”, “WE are returning HOME”; “Together we are RUSSIA”

According to the statements of residents of the annexed territories, some people were forced to vote several times for themselves or their relatives. Moreover, some Ukrainians who were killed during aggressive military actions somehow “voted” in the referendum too. Besides, according to the Security service of Ukraine, the Russians planned to give the right to vote to minors and force even Ukrainian prisoners of war who are not residents of the respective territories to vote. Therefore, the legitimacy of the voting qualification remains in question. Unbiased international observers could not check how it really was held. As in 2014, pro-Putin propagandists and representatives of radical political movements became “international observers” in 2022.

On October 3, the State Duma of the Russian Federation ratified the agreements on the accession of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People Republics into Russia with the rights of the republics, and the partially occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions would access Russia with the rights of the Oblasts (regions) with the corresponding illegitimate parliaments, which were created by the Putin regime itself to complete the image of “legality”.

What advantages did the Russian Federation want to get from the referendums?The “joining” of 4 Ukrainian regions is Putin’s attempt to turn Ukraine’s defensive actions against Russian aggression into offensive ones with all the following consequences. The “inclusion” of the annexed Ukrainian regions into the Russian Federation should, first of all, provide the Putin regime with new cannon fodder, because it enables him to mobilize citizens from the annexed territories.

However, it is important to remember, that fake referendums are a tool for Putin to “legitimize” de facto partial control over the annexed territories while it is still there. Such “legitimization” does not occur due to legal norms, but due to lost time. During these 8 years, Ukraine has already shown that it will never recognize the results of illegitimate referendums, so the country is not going to cede sovereignty after another series of the same fake referendums.

At the same time, the mobilization and “zombification” of Ukrainians in the annexed territories are gaining momentum day by day, reducing Ukraine’s public position there. Therefore, the delay in decisive actions, such as the transfer of weapons to Ukraine, will not lead to peace or even a truce, but will only contribute to the prolongation of the war.