ASince Tuesday, there has been an answer to the question of how Russian President Vladimir Putin is reacting to the Ukrainian reconquest offensive: “Referenda” are now to be held in the Russian-occupied parts of the eastern and southern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Cherson and Zaporizhia occur. “The peoples of the relevant areas must decide their own fate,” said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, summing up this approach in Russian.
The spirit of unanimity and unity that emerged in Putin’s “referendums” was reflected in images from occupied territories shown by Russian state television: People presented as members of bodies called “People’s Council”, “Public Chamber” or “Public Assembly” raised themselves in front of Russian tricolors in barren, poorly lit rooms, their hands became harmonious.
Preparations for such “referendums” have been reported time and time again for months. After all, Putin sees large parts of Ukraine as “historical Russia” and is pushing ahead with the “Russification” of the occupied territories. However, the target dates were pushed further and further back under the impression of a lack of success on the battlefield. At times, the goal was to completely occupy at least the two “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk proclaimed in 2014, or to “liberate” them, as the Russians put it.
But in the Donetsk region, Russia’s offensive is faltering, and the storming of the city of Slavyansk has become unlikely after the recent losses in the Kharkiv region. Even the Luhansk region, which was only fully conquered at the beginning of July, is now threatened again from the Russian point of view. Andrei Turchak, Secretary General of the powerful United Russia party, recently mentioned November 4, on which Russia celebrates the “Day of National Unity,” as a possible date for “referendums.” But in view of the successful Ukrainian counter-offensive, the exiled Russian news portal “Medusa” then reported that the Kremlin had stopped preparations for the “referendums” for the time being.
Polling stations are also being set up in Russia
Now it’s supposed to happen very quickly: one occupation regime after another declared on Tuesday, from September 23 to 27, ie from Friday to Tuesday of next week, that “referendums” should be held on the union with Russia. “Finally”, as the state television from the Donbass reported and, in addition to prominent occupation officials, also brought alleged residents in front of the cameras with corresponding statements. Turchak now said that “de facto” “the Donbass and the liberated areas are already Russia”; an “honest and open vote” will “de jure that once and for all”.
In Moscow, Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Duma, asked, “if they (residents of the occupied territories, ed.) say in a direct expression of their will that they want to be part of Russia, colleagues, then we support them – do you agree with that ?” The lower house deputies applauded, and Volodin added: “And they must understand today that we expect them to express their will freely.” Polling institutes loyal to the Kremlin soon presented results from all four occupied territories, which, as expected, showed great approval for “joining Russia “ promised.
It seemed like a fast-forward link to the model of the “referendum” held in March 2014 in Crimea, which had just been occupied by Russia. Now the Russian staging of the “will of the people” has to be done more casually and under wartime conditions. Medusa sources close to the Kremlin now say they have no intention of creating even an “illusion of legitimacy”.