The Russian invaders have not been consistent so far in their approach to governing the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv Oblasts. In some places, L/DPR militants ‘appoint’ unknown persons to nonexistent offices, in others, there are talks of holding a pseudo-referendum, and PR campaigns are run elsewhere to promote their incorporation in the occupied Crimea. The ‘people’s republic’ format is not going to work this time, however, it is still worth preparing for such negative scenarios.
The Chair of the Board of the Civic Network OPORA, Ms. Olha Aivazovska, and the organization’s top analyst, Mr. Oleksandr Kliuzhev, talked about this during an OPORA Live stream on April 27.
Oleksandr Kliuzhev pointed out that representatives of the DPR and LPR terrorist organizations are now nominating their delegates to certain nonexistent offices in new ‘communities’ in the recently occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts who are then given certain powers by the invaders to administer the territories. Russian propagandists have also announced the appointment of some unknown persons, whom they call ‘heads of military/civil administrations,’ in Kharkiv Oblast.
“In the last few days, the legitimate Kherson City Council ceased its operations, and some new people were put in charge who they hope will administer the territories on behalf of the invaders. In addition to that, there is a possibility that the so-called ‘referenda’ may be held to ‘determine their political destiny,’ as the propagandists put it. In other words, we are not seeing one single scenario in those territories yet. In addition to those that I mentioned, there are the so-called ‘resolutions’ of the so-called ‘public assemblies’ in some small towns to join the L/DPR terrorist organizations, and there have been individual incidents of illegal campaigning to promote incorporation of small communities into the Crimea. Also, speaking through the mouths of Crimean ‘officials,’ the invader state has announced that they are going to establish an integrated economic complex comprising Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts,” he said.
Despite the lack of logic in Vladimir Putin’s actions, the processes ongoing in southern Ukraine, particularly in the Kherson area, are a way of removing the territories from Ukraine’s jurisdiction and transferring them into Russia’s jurisdiction. The invader state needs a corridor from the Crimea to the east, Olha Aivazovska said.
“With one hundred percent certainty, the ‘people’s republic’ format will not work this time. Reporters often ask why they are doing that. There is no way this can be imitated anymore. Since we’ve been seeing such a full-scale invasion and so many acts of aggression by the Russian Federation for the last two months, how can anyone say that there is political will, or at least some elements or even imitation thereof, to incorporate that territory into the Russian Federation or operate as a self-sustaining area for a certain transition period. Sadly, the way I see it, all of it is very cynical because we understand that there will not be a proper vote there. No village assembly or a fake appointment of some kind of a chieftain is of any relevance to us as Ukrainian citizens, the Ukrainian state, or the civilized world. We do know that there is no such form of democracy in existence like the ones offered under the name of a ‘referendum.’ This devalues the very concept of a referendum which is a standard tool; however, it has to have the form, meaning, and procedures to be followed by all parties, including both the participants in the competitive process, i.e., the proponents and the opponents, and the organizers. Therefore, I have to say that not only Russia’s top officials have repeatedly declared their certain political initiatives on ‘demilitarization’ and ‘denazification’ by way of the ‘special operation,’ but, apparently, Russia is trying to seize those territories with a view to their annexation. Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s spokespersons have repeatedly stated that they in fact have historical aspirations to revive the Soviet Union in some form, adding new territories because an empire cannot exist without those territories,” she said.
“Placing those territories under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and restoring either an under-empire or a post-Soviet union requires certain steps to give them legitimacy. A referendum is a way to give them such legitimacy provided that it is real, which is definitely not the case. Therefore, the way I see it, the end goal of any fake vote is solely to later be able to make historical claims that the people of Ukraine, certain territories, or certain communities were willing to be placed under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. We don’t even know yet what questions are going to be put to this pseudo-referendum,” Olha Aivazovska added.
Oleksandr Kliuzhev remarked that Russia aimed to create a quasilegal reality which it needed to later be able to say that the situation could no longer be rolled back: “Here I draw a parallel with the recognition of the ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ terrorist organizations within the administrative boundaries of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, which was in fact done deliberately in violation of all international laws, so that later, as the aggression progressed, Russia could claim that there could be no rollback, not even to February 24. And I think that the key task for Ukraine and its international partners is to not just say that these international processes have nothing to do with international or Ukrainian laws but to actually reject any attempts to force this new quasilegal reality upon them.”
Such a scenario would spell an end to Ukraine-Russia talks and lead to more sanctions.
It is unclear what questions might be put to the so-called referendum, and its date is unknown either. According to Ukrainian intelligence, it was supposed to be held on April 27, whereas the Ukrainian Parliament Human Rights Commissioner spoke about the period between May 1 and 10.
In the meantime, the Central Election Commission has put some safeguards in place, particularly by terminating the term of office of election commission members in the occupied territories and restricting access to the State Voter Register.
OPORA has also noted that, given the security situation, Ukrainian nationals who are currently staying in the occupied territories should do their best to avoid participating in any events, activities, and so-called referenda held by the invaders, whereas the organizers of any false referenda should be aware that such efforts may be punishable by imprisonment of five to ten years.
You can watch the recording of OPORA’s livestream in Ukrainian here.