State media outlets have confirmed that Russian occupied territories from the Donbas region in the east to southern oblasts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, to the outskirts of Kharkiv in the Northeast, will hold elections on potential annexation into the Russian Federation. The vote would likely be similar to the 2014 referendum in Crimea, where returning to the control of Kyiv was not an option on the ballot.
“The referendum will, of course, be held on our territory,” Mayor Alexander Saulenko of Berlansk, a coastal city in Zaporizhzhia, told the Russian state-owned TASS. “We are preparing for this referendum, it is planned for September, but I can’t say the exact date yet.”
Russia is attempting to solidify control of hard-won territory as their invasion of Ukraine has continued to stall in recent months. The referendum gives their de facto annexation of Ukrainian territory a thin veneer of legality, although international observers were quick to condemn the legitimacy of any such vote.
“Since they obviously are having trouble achieving geographic gains inside Ukraine, they are trying to gain that through false political means,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said last week. “The Russian officials themselves know that what they’re doing will lack legitimacy, and it will not reflect the will of the people.”
“This is a part of Russia’s playbook to attack the sovereignty, identity, and history of Ukraine,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Verdant Patel said. “We want to be clear: Any claim by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian people somehow want to join Russia is a lie.”
The outcome of the vote is almost certain, and the process is basically a formality.
Andrei Turchak, a senior Russian lawmaker, reportedly said last week, “These territories are Russian regions.”