Russia has just finished a Potemkin referendum conducted in the illegally occupied Ukrainian oblasts (provinces) of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson (see Vladimir Putin to Address Russia; Annexation of Ukraine Provinces and Mobilization Seem to Be on the Table). The “voting” began on September 23, and the question is whether those provinces wish to be annexed to Russia.
There are complicating factors. All four oblasts are on the front line of a war between Putin’s invading army and the armed forces of Ukraine. Many, if not most, of the residents, are refugees. The voting began within 48 hours after the announcement. Needless to say, it, like the sham annexation referendum in Crimea, was not one where those opposed to the proposition could campaign or even vote their conscience.
Nothing makes voting more honest than two bearded Chechens with machine guns. It's strange why no one wants to open doors for them
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) September 23, 2022
I really want as many people as possible to watch these video. Try to imagine yourself in the place of these people. Their cities were occupied by a foreign army and now people with guns come to their apartments and demand to vote for joining Russia. Fake “referendums”. pic.twitter.com/UpqXgP4yT3
— Oleksandra Matviichuk (@avalaina) September 23, 2022
Nothing says free and fair referendum like a polling station guarded by a Wagner mercenary pic.twitter.com/cESvuHu1Us
— Jack Losh (@jacklosh) September 23, 2022
To no one’s shock, the pro-annexation forces carried the day. BBC’s James Waterhouse has the results.
No need to sit down, but 🇷🇺-installed officials have announced the preliminary results of their “referendums” in occupied Ukraine:
– 97% in Kherson region
– 98% in Zaporizhzhia
– 98% in “Donetsk People’s Republic”
– 98% in “Luhansk People’s Republic”
— James Waterhouse (@JamWaterhouse) September 27, 2022
Tom Nichols, an oleaginous lackwit who has never had a thought in his life that didn’t comport with the Washington cocktail circuit’s conventional wisdom, hit this nail on the head.
This is actually a good question, and the answer is that faking a win with 98 percent is a way for Russia to say: "We're in charge here, we can do anything we want, and don't f*ck with us." It's an insult, and it's *meant* to be. https://t.co/iWqqKBNPhB
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) September 27, 2022
Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposed to give a speech on Friday. The Kremlin bills it as a “historical speech of Putin.” Speculation is that he will announce the results of the annexation “vote” and send the matter to the Duma and Chamber of Deputies for ratification.
In terms of geography, this is a meaningless vote. After the similarly illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the results were only recognized by a handful of nations, most of them criminal enterprises much like Russia: Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe. While Russia had at least a colorable claim to Crimea because of its Black Sea Fleet based in Sebastopol, that plausibility no longer exists. This time around, there will be even fewer who go along.
Obviously, the United States and Western Europe have rejected it. But, in something of a surprise move, nations that have been somewhat friendly to Russia during the war are also rejecting it.
Erdogan says Russia's referendum in eastern Ukraine will never be accepted by Turkey
— Dagny Taggart (@DagnyTaggart963) September 20, 2022
Kazakhstan says its won't recognize annexation of parts of Ukraine by Russia after Putin's fake referendum. Asserts respect for "sovereignty & territorial integrity" of Ukraine.
A diplomatic slap in the face for Putin.
Will other former Soviet Central Asia republics do the same?
— Amir Taheri (@AmirTaheri4) September 26, 2022
In rare rebuke of Putin, Israel says it "recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine", and "will not accept the results of the referendum in the Eastern districts of Ukraine," that Russia plans to annex.https://t.co/hAKmuBmA1r
— avi scharf (@avischarf) September 27, 2022
Even the slavishly Russophilic government of Serbia has denounced the move.
serbia, russia’s closest friend in europe, will not accept results of putin’s sham referendum in ukraine.
maybe belarus will. that’s about it. pic.twitter.com/pBQz7siZVh
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) September 25, 2022
We can expect that Russia will issue some sort of demand to Ukraine to “withdraw” from the newly annexed territory and that Ukraine will refuse. NATO will continue to assist in arming Ukraine and training its armed forces.
NATO to Russia: We will never recognize your bullshit referendum to annex parts of Ukraine. (Reuters)https://t.co/N90bXN9GJO
— Jazz Shaw (@JazzShaw) September 23, 2022
This entire episode is mostly political posturing by Putin to try to chalk up some sort of victory for his inner clique now that their foreign real estate assets and bank holdings have been significantly eroded by confiscations under the provisions of sanctions. But, posturing aside, there is a very real strategic purpose in the annexation.
As I mentioned earlier, it is a sure bet that Putin will now claim that Russia the Rodina has been invaded by those evil people who use toilet paper and soap and that all true Russians must rise to her defense. He will also use this claim of “I’ve been invaded” to threaten nuclear retaliation. But he’ll do it on a day ending in “y,” so that won’t be a massive shock to anyone. By now, he has threatened to nuke everyone so many times that no one believes him; who knows, I’m sure his fans will say that lulling us into a false sense of security by repeated threats was part of his plan all along. I don’t think his claim to own 20% or so of Ukraine will scare anyone into changing their position.
Practically, this helps solve his manpower problem. His mobilization announcement hasn’t been well-received and shows no signs of producing combat power at any point in the future (Vladimir Putin’s Speech About Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Was a Wild Ride but Where Does It Go?). By annexing the battlefield, Putin now has access to the conscripts in the Russian Army who were previously off limits to the “Special Military Operation.”
I’m not sure that this will play out all that well. The conscript army has been denuded of officers to serve in Ukraine. Moving a mass of marginally trained and poorly led soldiers into battle in the winter would not have been on my bingo card.
A more significant strategic problem for Russia is that the annexation has essentially closed off any possible negotiation. Russia’s annexation means that no solution that involves rolling back Russian aggression is on the table.
Russia's recognition of sham referenda as allegedly normal, implementation of the so-called “Crimean scenario” and another attempt to annex the territory of Ukraine will mean that there is nothing to talk about with this President of Russia – @ZelenskyyUa pic.twitter.com/fDHGjj6EOx
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) September 27, 2022
It is confronting the weak sisters in NATO, that would be Germany and France, with a never-ending war or with equipping the Ukrainians with modern tanks, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft so they can boot the Russians out of Ukrainian territory.