“Referendums” in the occupied territories: what do the occupiers say and how does Ukraine react to it?
20 September, 2022
People stand in front of Russian troops during a rally against the Russian occupation in Kherson, March 14, 2022 Photo: AP Photo / Olexandr Chornyi
The Russian administrations of the occupied territories simultaneously announced that they would hold “referendums” on joining Russia. We explain what is known about this now and how Ukraine reacts to it.

What's going on?

On September 19, the “Civic Chambers” of the puppet “LPR” and “DPR” began to demand the immediate initiation of “referendums” on their recognition as subjects of the Russian Federation. The “Civic Chamber” of the “LPR” declared that joining Russia “will secure the republic, open up new opportunities on the way to return to a peaceful life”.

Shortly after that, the leaders of the “LPR” and “DPR” Denis Pushylin and Leonid Pasichnik discussed these appeals and agreed that they would synchronize further actions. And on September 20, a similar “referendum” was proposed to be held in Kherson Oblast by the Russian-controlled “Civic Council”, and in Zaporizhzhia Oblast by the “We are together with Russia” movement (movement of the Russian pro-government party, “United Russia” – ed.).

Finally, on September 20, the occupation administrations of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts announced that they would hold “referendums” on joining Russia on September 23-27.

In parallel with this, the concepts of “martial law” and “mobilization” were introduced into the criminal code of Russia: they provide for increased responsibility for voluntary surrender, desertion, and looting.

What do they say in the Kremlin?

The Deputy Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev said that the announcement of a pseudo-referendum in the occupied territories would allow Russia to allegedly “officially” declare an attack on “its territory”. “Encroachment on the territory of the Russian Federation is a crime, the commission of which allows the use of all self-defense forces,” he wrote.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, claims that the decision of the DPR and LPR militants regarding the referendum shows that local residents allegedly want to make a choice about their future life on their own.

From the beginning of the special military operation and in the previous period, we said that peoples should decide their fate. And the whole current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their own destiny,” he said.

How does Ukraine react to this?

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba said that neither pseudo-referendums nor hybrid mobilization in Russia will change anything. “Russia was and remains an aggressor state that illegally occupies a part of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will continue to liberate them, no matter what they say in Russia,” the minister emphasized.

The head of the President's Office Andriy Yermak wrote that the occupiers' statements about “referendums” are naive blackmail with threats and horror stories. “This is what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid and primitively manipulates. Ukraine will resolve the Russian issue. The threat can be eliminated only by force,” he emphasized.

Yermak's adviser Mykhailo Podolyak says that the Russians' decision to hold a pseudo-referendum is their “asymmetric” response to the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“They think that the illegal “referendum” will be able to stop HIMARS and the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the way to destroying the occupiers on our lands. Are you sure you want to spend the time it takes to organize an escape for a new show? Try it... It will be interesting..., says Podolyak.

For the most part, Western countries have not yet had time to react to the statements of the Russians and their administrations in Ukraine. However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Edgars Rinkēvičs, has already stated that the international community should not only not give in to Russian blackmail, but also increase the number of anti-Russian sanctions and give Ukraine more weapons.