Putin Has A Lot Riding On The Ukraine Referendums. Here's Why

The Russian president is expected to make a big announcement on Friday, September 30.
Vladimir Putin has called for "referendums" in four parts of annexed Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has called for "referendums" in four parts of annexed Ukraine

Vladimir Putin recently announced there were going to be four “referendums” in areas of Ukraine which have been annexed by Russia during its invasion.

As the Russian president is expected to make another big speech on Friday, September 30, these referendums could prove to be yet another pivotal moment in the war.

Here’s what you need to know.

What referendums?

As he confirmed that he was ordering the partial mobilisation of Russia’s reserve troops and renewed his nuclear weapons threats last week, Putin explained that four referendums would be taking place between September 23 and 27.

The votes are set to take place in two breakaway territories controlled by separatists, Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, along with the seized regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

These four territories along the south-east borders between Ukraine and Russia make up 15% of Ukraine’s land mass.

Putin has claimed that all these regions already have Russia’s support, and “we will do everything to ensure” the safe conduct of these so-called public votes.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine
PA GraphicsPress Association Images

Are they real referendums?

The referendum results are not expected to actually reflect voters’ wishes.

According to Ukrainian officials, ballot boxes have been taken from door to door and residents were coerced into voting in front of Russian troops.

Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also told Swiss newspaper Blick that Ukrainians who help Russia organise the annexations referendum would face treason charges and at least five years in jail.

He said: “We have lists of names of people who have been involved in some way.”

However, Podolyak promised the Ukrainians who were forced to vote would not be punished.

Why did Putin announce the referendums now?

The Russian president’s declaration came after an astounding counteroffensive from Ukraine at the start of September.

This saw Ukraine reclaim thousands of square-kilometres back from Russia, causing significant fear in Moscow that the invasion is not going to be successful after all.

Even pro-war panellists began to express concern on Russian state TV – which is controlled by the government – and suggested drastic action was necessary for victory over Ukraine.

Putin also publicly confirmed that he was aware Russia’s ally, China, had “concerns” about how the war was going this month, which is the closest he has come to admitting his recent losses.

Protests across Russia have broken out in response to the partial mobilisation of troops too, so Putin is keen to rally more public support for the war.

The UK Ministry of Defence suggested this is probably why the president is going to address Russia on Friday.

The officials explained: “There is a realistic possibility that Putin will use his address to formally announce the accession of the occupied region of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

“Russia’s leaders almost certainly hope that any accession announcement will be seen as a vindication of the ‘special military operation’ and will consolidate patriotic support for the conflict.

“The aspiration will likely be undermined by the increasing domestic awareness of Russia’s recent battlefield set-backs and significant unease about the partial mobilisation announced last week.”

How could this change the war?

None of the provinces are fully under the Kremlin’s control, and there has been fighting along the frontline as Ukraine continues to push back.

But, as the areas are hotly contested – and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to reclaim every part of Ukraine’s land – Ukraine’s expected attempts to retrieve these regions will give Putin an excuse to double down on his aggression.

Russian government officials have repeatedly warned that they might use nuclear weapons to defend these new territories if Ukraine try to take the land back, too.

Podolyak also warned that a Russian nuclear strike was possible as a result of the referendums – and also said it could finally roe the rest of the world into direct conflict with Russia.

“Where exactly should we evacuate people in the event of a Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine? That is why the use of nuclear weapons is a question of global security – this is no longer just about Ukraine,” he said.

The West has already said it would not recognise the results of such referendums – but this is not about healing the divide with Ukraine and its allies. It’s meant to shore up Putin’s justification for invading his European neighbour in the first place.


What's Hot