Luhansk /Moscow (dpa) – Russia wants to incorporate large parts of the invaded country with mock referendums in occupied Ukrainian territories, which have been criticized internationally as a breach of international law.
Ballots scheduled for five days began in the Russian-controlled parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine and in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions in the south. Russia’s state television reported that millions of people would decide their fate.
According to polls by Moscow-controlled polling institutes, the Kremlin expects between 80 and 90 percent to vote in favor of joining Russia by Tuesday. Election workers could be seen in the areas walking around with transparent ballot boxes to let people vote: yes or no? Russia’s state media only showed enthusiastic citizens who are looking forward to being accepted into the Russian Federation, also because of the social security – under Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin there are higher pensions.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Russia, who had left their homeland in the course of the war, were also allowed to vote. Through tears, women told how they were looking forward to being able to return to their homeland soon, because then, thanks to Russia’s protection, they would not have to fear Ukrainian attacks. According to the head of the Luhansk Electoral Commission, Yelena Kravchenko, around 300,000 refugees are expected to vote in Russia.
Ukraine condemns mock referendums: “propaganda show”
Ukraine, on the other hand, spoke of a “propaganda show” by the Kremlin. “Today there is no legal procedure in the occupied territories that can be called a ‘referendum’,” said the president’s office adviser Mykhailo Podoliak. The “show” only serves as a background for the partial mobilization in Russia. At the same time, Podoljak said that the occupied areas must be liberated “immediately”.
There was a risk of artillery fire in the areas close to the front. There were reports of artillery shelling in Donetsk, Horlivka and other places.
Moscow once again warned Kyiv against attempts to take back the areas. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that such attempts amounted to an attack on the Russian Federation. The nuclear power had already declared that it would defend the areas with all means. Peskow also announced that the process for including the regions could be quick.
Voting is not recognized internationally
Russia invokes the “right of self-determination of peoples”. Neither Ukraine nor the international community recognizes this vote under occupying Russia and armed forces. These are sham referendums because they are being held without Ukraine’s consent, under martial law and not according to democratic principles. Free work by international independent observers is also not possible.
The separatist leader Denis Puschilin spoke of a historic day in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” recognized by Russia. “This referendum is crucial, it is a breakthrough into a new reality,” he said in a video published on the Telegram news channel. “We’re coming back home,” said Puschilin. The Donbass is coming back to its Russian homeland. This is not only a win for the people of Donbass, but also for Russia, which will then grow. “Donbass is Russia.”
In the Zaporizhia region, only those parts that are dominated by Russian troops are voted on. The regional capital itself is controlled by Ukraine. The polls started without any problems, said the polling officer Galina Katyushchenko. 500,000 voters were called there. In many places, votes are taken outdoors for safety reasons.
Ballots legally void
Internationally, these elections have already been described as legally void. Kyiv threatened the organizers of the process with prosecution for high treason. In addition, the acceptance of Russian passports, especially by employees of state administrations, is legally punished. There are many collaborators in the areas.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. In the course of a counter-offensive, the Ukrainian armed forces had largely driven out the Russian troops from the north-eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv. The sham referendums are also seen as Putin’s reaction to the recent successes of the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Nevertheless, including the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed in 2014 after a controversial referendum, almost 20 percent of Ukrainian territory is still under Russian control. Putin had announced that he would draft in 300,000 reservists to reinforce the Russian army. They should help to guarantee the occupation of the territories. According to Russian information, the front line is more than 1,000 kilometers long.
© dpa-infocom, dpa:220923-99-867630/7