What the ‘Sham’ Referenda in Russian-Controlled Ukraine Could Mean for Both Countries

Four Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions will be voting on whether they want to join the Russian Federation or remain part of Ukraine, beginning Friday. Moscow has announced that Luhansk, Kherson, and the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions will vote in the referenda from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27. Ukraine and the international community have expressed outrage that the elections are sure to be a “sham,” similar to the 2014 referendum in Crimea. The 2014 referendum’s results were highly disputed as being fraudulent and dismissed by foreign powers, however, Russia proceeded to formally annex Crimea just days later.

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Former President and current deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said that the referenda will redraw these territories into Russia, that this will be “irreversible” and that it’ll allow the Kremlin to use “all possible force in self-defense.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why is Russia calling for referenda?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been ongoing for seven months, during which Ukrainian forces have shown far more resilience than Russia anticipated.

“They started to prepare this referendum back when they first thought they would take Kyiv in three days and have a military parade with Putin,” says Konstantin Sonin, a professor at the University of Chicago with expertise in Russian political and economic issues.

Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated the invasion as an effort, he claims, to liberate Ukrainians from an oppressive regime. Part of the justification for that was built on the notion that there is a substantial ethnically-Russian population in Ukraine that needs to be reunited with Russia.

“In Ukraine, there are millions of [ethnic] Russians. There are also tens of millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Putin constantly confuses these two groups,” Sonin says. “It’s a relatively small share of people who want to be in Russia. It’s an even smaller share, who want to fight for this.”

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Polling shows that very few people in Ukraine have the desire to join Russia, but rather, experts argue, that Putin’s motive for the war was to preemptively quash any chance of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“Nothing that we’ve seen over the past several months or years suggests that the overwhelming majority of ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers in Ukraine would want to be part of the Russian Federation,” Thomas Graham, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian Affairs under George W. Bush, tells TIME.

“I think the decision to take this move is related to the setbacks that Russia has experienced on the battlefield in the past several days and weeks. It’s a response to the pressure that the Kremlin is feeling from hardline critics inside Russia to be more aggressive in the execution of a war in Ukraine,” Graham adds.

Russians have grown weary of the war, which Putin denies is a war at all. Labeled a “special military operation,” the conflict has lost support in Russia after recent losses.

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Source:: Time – World

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