The Russian State Duma and Federation Council are set to enact the annexation of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” (“DPR”, “LPR”) to the Russian Federation, following the September 23–27 annexation “referendums” in those areas. The Duma’s chair, Vyacheslav Volodin, refers to those aggregated territories as Novorossiya (Interfax, September 28), in tune with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eight-year project of the same designation (see EDM, September 23).
With 100 percent of the alleged votes cast having already been purportedly counted, the Russian state media reports the results as follows: in the “DPR,” 99 percent voted “yes” with 97.5-percent turnout; in the “LPR,” 98 percent voted “yes” with 94-percent turnout; in Kherson region, 87 percent voted “yes” with 79-percent turnout; and in Zaporizhzhia region, 93 percent voted “yes” with 85-percent turnout (TASS, September 28).
The Ukrainian territories currently under Russian occupation total at least 90,000 square kilometers, according to Ukrainian estimates (The Kyiv Independent, September 27). Measured in terms of Ukraine’s pre-2014 provinces, Russia now occupies more than 90 percent of Luhansk province, more than 60 percent of Donetsk province, more than 90 percent of Kherson province and more than 70 percent of Zaporizhzhia province. That was the ambit of the September 23–27 “referendums.” Meanwhile, Russian forces still occupy 6 percent of Ukraine’s Kharkiv province, following Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive there, as well as Snihurivka district in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv province (see EDM, September 15).
According to Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, on the morrow of the “referendums,” Russia will continue its military operations in Ukraine until Russian forces “liberat[e] the whole of DPR’s territory at the very least” (TASS, September 28).
As a state without rule of law, Russia is all the more fastidious in devising elaborate procedures to cover its lawless actions. In this instance, Moscow differentiates between the current “legal” status of the “DPR” and “LPR” on one hand and that of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions on the other. In the cases of the “DPR” and “LPR,” the issue is simply annexation to Russia. In the cases of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, however, the issue is secession from Ukraine first, then annexation to Russia afterward.
Moscow phrased the referendums’ questions to reflect this differentiation. The question in the “DPR” and “LPR” was: “Do you support the republic’s accession to the Russian Federation with the status of a constituent entity (subekt) of the Russian Federation?” The question in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, however, was: “Are you in favor that the region should secede from Ukraine, creating an independent state, and [then] enter the Russian Federation?”
The Kremlin chose this procedure because Russian law does not provide for the accession of parts of foreign states to the Russian Federation. Russia recognizes the “DPR” and “LPR” (since February 21) ostensibly as states in their own right, hence Moscow can “legally” incorporate them based on a mock referendum. The Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, however, must first secede from Ukraine and earn Russia‘s recognition as states in order to become eligible for incorporation into Russia. And, while the DPR and LPR are apparently entitled to “republic” status within the Russian Federation, the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions seem destined for a status below that of federal republics in Russia.
Russia’s bicameral parliament, therefore, can be expected to adopt two sets of laws to consummate these annexations: laws on the ratification of interstate treaties with all four of the aforementioned entities and laws on their accession to the Russian Federation (TASS, September 27, 28).
Voting in these “referendums” was stretched out over five days (September 23 through 27) in hopes of maximizing turnout, but the official turnout figures look wildly exaggerated. A large part of the four territories’ populations has left their homes: whether as internally displaced persons in Ukrainian government-controlled territory, refugees in European countries or transported by occupation authorities to territories across Russia. According to Russian central media, voting in the “referendums” took place haphazardly in schools, theaters, courtyards of apartment buildings or by moving ballot boxes door-to-door. Polling stations appeared only on the fifth (and final) day of voting. Lists of registered voters did not exist ahead of time. The lists were compiled on the fly, when residents cast their ballots, from the first to the fifth day. Thus, the voter lists made their appearance post factum, not before the vote (TASS; RIA Novosti; Interfax, September 27, 28).
These “referendums” and any of their consequences will remain unrecognized internationally. In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had warned Moscow in advance that staging the referendums would, ipso facto, preclude Ukraine from negotiating with Russia. Following their staging, Zelenskyy confirmed: “Given this repeat of the Crimea scenario to annex Ukrainian territories, there is nothing to talk about anymore with this Russian president [Putin]” (Ukrinform, September 27).