According to the Kremlin, a positive referendum result in the occupied parts of Ukraine could quickly lead to annexing those areas. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said on Friday that the procedures could proceed quickly.
Attacks on those parts of Ukraine would then become attacks on the Russian Federation.
In southern and eastern Ukraine, residents of provinces that have come under partial Russian control can vote in referendums until Tuesday whether or not they want to join the Russian Federation. The Russian government claims that this is based on “the right of self-determination of the peoples” and counts on a ‘yes’ from the voters that are reached. However, western observers speak of sham referendums, the outcome of which has already been determined.
The battle for the southeastern areas previously economically and culturally oriented towards Russia ignited in 2014 when a pro-Russian elected president in Kyiv was deposed by the pro-Western opposition with support from Washington and Brussels, among others. An uprising broke out in southeastern Ukraine, and Moscow reacted angrily with the capture of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. This was quickly and also after a referendum annexed. But in Crimea, a large majority were ethnically Russian, Russian-speaking and in favour of returning to Russia.
The referenda that Russia has now organized in Ukraine are in much less evidently pro-Russian parts of the country, where Ukrainians have also fled or where the struggle makes it impossible to go to the polls. The chaotic referendums are also exclusively in parts of provinces under military occupation. In the rest of the four provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson, no one is asked whether they would like to belong to Russia.
According to the Kremlin, the referenda and the proposed annexation are a result of the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine cutting off peace talks between the two belligerent countries. According to Peskov, there is now no basis for resuming those contacts. According to President Vladimir Putin, Kyiv has decided to settle the battle exclusively on the battlefield.