Referendums as Cornerstones of the New Russian Statehood

NEW – September 23, 2022

Voting is underway in four regions of the Donbass, Azov and Black Sea regions

The appointment of referendums in the republics of Donbass, and then in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, had a huge effect. Oddly enough, I was also convinced of this by one non-political indicator: the significance of this step was clearly demonstrated by the dynamics of trading on the Russian stock market. While social networks have been choking with hysteria for weeks about the attacks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Kharkov region, investors have remained unbroken and calm, realising that the reaction of the media field is greatly exaggerated and the success of the Ukrainian forces, in fact, is small. But immediately after the announcement of the referendums, the market plummeted by an average of 10%, as this move dramatically changes the strategic alignment. In particular, by shifting the economic gap with the West from a theoretically temporary one to a long-term one. It is clear that it was already long-term, but many merchants did not fully realise this.

Interestingly, the market, unlike the online community, reacted much more calmly to the partial mobilisation that began the next day, and in the afternoon it even began to win back losses. This does not mean that this news is less significant or more positive, but it, in fact, logically follows from the decision to attach the territories. A new reality is coming into its own.

For many months, the question of joining the already liberated regions into Russia was postponed for the future, because they were mostly liberated in March. According to some, the Kremlin, according to the precepts of the Chinese strategy, was ready to build Zelensky or his successor a “golden bridge” – to allow him to lose without losing face. The question of the status of territories already controlled by Russia could sweeten the pill. They, for example, could formally return to Ukraine, but, of course, in a completely different status – closer to that implied by the Minsk Agreements for the DPR and LPR, with significantly greater rights and their own self-defence forces. And the people’s republics of Donbass themselves could, for example, be recognised as independent, but without joining the Russian Federation (So many people thought back then, but I, of course, never thought so).

Today, against the background of Kiev’s apparent inability to negotiate, its euphoria from the first successful counterattack and the West’s readiness to burn huge resources in the Ukrainian furnace, Moscow closes this opportunity for opponents – the territories that became part of Russia can no longer be a subject for bargaining. This means that the special operation is moving to a different format – the fight will be aimed at the attrition of Ukraine. This is indirectly confirmed by the strikes launched by the Russian side on the Ukrainian infrastructure. Until then, its destruction was considered impractical, probably because it potentially worsened the post-war humanitarian and economic situation of a future denazified and demilitarised Ukraine. On those territories that would go to Russia or become friendly to it, we would have to restore what was destroyed. But now the situation has changed.

Weakening of sovereignty is deadly for Russian statehood, President Vladimir Putin said at a concert marking the 1160th anniversary of the birth of Russian statehood. “For 1,160 years, we have firmly learned that it is deadly for Russia to weaken its sovereignty even for a while, to abandon its national interests. During such periods, the very existence of Russia was under threat, and we will never make such mistakes again. We will not give in to blackmail and intimidation.”

This is the essence of the problem. Today’s queues of thousands of volunteers at Russian military registration and enlistment offices are an expression of public support for the authorities’ firm intentions to restore this sovereignty.

Political-economic background

After the referendums, the area of Russia will increase by almost 109,000 square kilometres, while the area of Ukraine will decrease by 1/5.

The population of Russia will increase by more than 8 million people, while that of Ukraine will decrease by 21%.

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The Zaporozhye region (or Zaporozhye krai, as it is going to be renamed) is known for its enterprises of ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, mechanical engineering (including electrical and aviation), energy (the largest in Europe Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant), chemical and petrochemical industry, agriculture, pharmaceutical production.

Zaporozhye region was the flagship and pioneer of the Soviet and Ukrainian electric power industry (about 25% of Ukraine’s electricity was produced in the region).

The Kherson region is the largest among all the regions of the former Ukraine in terms of farmland area – 2 million hectares of arable land.

This is the main region of Novorossiya for growing high-quality food grains of winter wheat, corn, rice, and sunflower. The region has significant areas of irrigated land, which allows growing vegetable and melon crops and grapes. The presence of a well-developed processing industry makes it possible to process manufactured products directly in the region, thereby reducing the cost of their transportation and preventing the outflow of income to other regions.

Before Maidan 2014, the share of GDP in the Donetsk region was 16%, that is, in fact, a sixth of Ukraine’s GDP. In Soviet times, about 30 million tons of coal were mined here annually, and this did not exhaust the region’s industrial potential.

In addition to coal mining, the main economic sectors of the Donetsk People’s Republic are mainly heavy industry: metallurgy, extraction of raw materials for the metallurgical industry, coking and chemical industry, mining engineering.

The metallurgical giants of the Lugansk People’s Republic already provide their products to almost all construction sites in Donbass and are ready to supply products for most of the production chains and end users in Russian regions.

In addition to metallurgy, coal mining, heavy engineering, chemical industry and agriculture are developed.

Passing through the territory of the LPR are transit highways (the Volgograd-Kharkov railway, the Taganrog-Kharkov highway, the Moscow-Rostov-on-Don highway (M4) passes at the nearest point 15 km from the regional border, gas pipelines from Stavropol and Orenburg, oil pipelines from the Volga region and the North Caucasus) that connect Ukraine and Russia and bring it closer to the sales markets.

Historical background

It is important to understand the historical logic of what is happening, so that no one thinks that we are talking about some unexpected impulses. And what is the general correlation of these concepts themselves – “Ukraine” and “Russia”? How did we get to what we’re doing today?

At the time of the Empire, there was no Ukraine as a state. The overthrow of the monarchy in February 1917 provoked an active territorial division in western Russia. Already in March 1917, the Ukrainian separatists, with the support of Austria-Hungary, established the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) with its capital in Kiev and headed by the Central Rada, where Grushevsky was the chairman.

On January 30, 1918, the Regional Soviet of Workers’ Deputies of the Donetsk and Krivoy Rog basin proclaimed the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic in Kharkov with the firm intention of becoming part of Soviet Russia. At the same time – in 1918 – there was even a slogan and a poster with it – “Donbass is the heart of Russia”.

Then the territory of the DKR included the current Donetsk, Lugansk, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Kharkov, Sumy, Kherson, Nikolaev, Mariupol, Berdyansk, Melitopol, Taganrog and partially the Rostov regions.

That is, once again: it was the Bolsheviks who became the founders of that state – Soviet Ukraine. This same Soviet Ukraine became a co-founder state of the USSR when the Union Treaty was signed in 1922.

Here are the Russian provinces that became part of the Ukrainian SSR in 1922: Volyn, Donetsk, Ekaterinoslav, Zaporozhye, Kiev, Kremenchug, Nikolaev, Odessa, Podolsk, Poltava, Kharkov and Chernigov. And here are the cities founded with the favour of the Russian tsars, when this territory was still part of Rus/Russia: Sumy – founded in 1655, Kharkov – 1656, Kirovograd – 1754, Zaporozhye – 1770 (as Aleksandrovsk), Krivoy Rog – 1775, Dnepropetrovsk (now Dnepr) – 1776 (as Ekaterinoslav), Kherson – 1778, Mariupol – 1778, Nikolaev-1789, Odessa – 1794, Lugansk – 1795, Donetsk – 1869 (as Yuzovka).

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Let me remind you that all these programs took place within the framework of a single state, and no one seriously attached importance to them. Today, the time has come to return our lands that fell under Banderist occupation.

Relevance

Referendums on the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, as well as Russian-controlled parts of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions of Ukraine joining Russia’s will be held from September 23 to 27. Such decisions were made by the heads of all four territories. In the United States and Europe, they have already declared that they do not recognise “fictitious referendums”, and in Kiev they promised to continue “liberating their territories, no matter what they say in Russia”. Western lawyers note that if these territories are included in the Russian Federation, Moscow will be able to interpret attacks on them as aggression and take a whole range of retaliatory measures — up to a nuclear strike.

Decrees on holding referendums on joining Russia were signed on September 20 by the heads of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) and the heads of civil-military administrations operating in Russian-controlled parts of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.

Deputy Head of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were the first leaders of Russia to respond to these decisions.

Dmitry Medvedev said that it was simply impossible to do without referendums. “Referendums in Donbass are of great importance not only for the systematic protection of residents of the LPR, DPR and other liberated territories, but also for the restoration of historical justice,” he wrote on his Telegram channel. In his opinion, these plebiscites “completely change the vector of Russia’s development for decades”“And not only in our country. Because after their implementation and the adoption of new territories as part of Russia, the geopolitical transformation in the world will become irreversible.”

And then Medvedev added a phrase that many observers in the West interpreted as a warning about the readiness of the Russian authorities to use any means, including tactical nuclear weapons, to protect their new territories: “Encroachment on the territory of Russia is a crime and allows to use all the forces of self-defence.”

No less important, according to the former president of the Russian Federation, is that after the introduction of amendments to the Constitution on the attachment of new territories, “no future leader of Russia, no official will be able to reverse these decisions”“That is exactly why these referendums are so feared in Kiev and in the West. That is why they need to be carried out,” Dmitry Medvedev concluded.

Sergey Lavrov noted: “From the very beginning of the special military operation, and in general in the period preceding it, we said that the peoples of the respective territories should decide their fate. And the whole current situation confirms that they want to be the owners of their own destiny.”

The procedure for holding referendums in the DPR and LPR is enshrined in the laws adopted and entered into force on the same day, September 20. Their texts are almost identical.

According to them, citizens of the DPR and LPR who are located outside the republics also have the right to participate in voting. Voting can be carried out both in a special room and outside it — in the adjacent territories and other places that are “suitable for voting equipment”. The laws also provide that the voting process may be interrupted for reasons beyond the commission’s control: “In the event of… a situation that may lead to harm to the life and health of members of the referendum commission, referendum participants, the precinct commission may suspend voting at this referendum precinct until such situation is eliminated.”

If there is such a threat, the counting of votes may also be suspended: in this case, the documents are delivered to the territorial commission or the Central Electoral Commission, where the counting of votes is carried out again. The results of the referendum must be determined no later than 5 days after the last voting day. The issue is considered approved if more than 50% of the participants in the plebiscite voted for it.

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On September 20, the parliaments of the DPR and LPR also approved the referendum question, which is formulated identically: “Are you in favour of the entry of the DPR/LPR into the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?”

In the Russian-controlled parts of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, the question had to be formulated somewhat differently, since these territories (unlike the DPR and LPR, whose independence Moscow recognised), from the point of view of Russian legislation, remain part of Ukraine, and the appearance of new subjects in the Russian Federation, according to Russian laws, is possible only as a result of the conclusion of an interstate agreement.

Therefore, Kherson and Zaporozhye residents will be offered to approve three decisions at once: the withdrawal of the territory from Ukraine, the formation of an independent state and its entry into the Russian Federation as a subject.

After that, according to the federal constitutional law “On the procedure for admission to the Russian Federation and the formation of a new subject of the Russian Federation”, Moscow must conclude an appropriate agreement with each of the joining territories (in the case of parts of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, it will be necessary to recognise their independence in advance), which, after their assessment by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, are sent for ratification to the Federal Parliament. At the same time, draft constitutional laws on the adoption of new subjects in the Russian Federation are being submitted to the State Duma.

Recall that in 2014, all legal procedures for the admission of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation were completed in four days. Next week, the State Duma is scheduled to hold plenary sessions on September 27 and 28, after which the deputies should leave for the regions. But if necessary, the chamber is ready to meet at any time, said the head of the Duma Control Committee Oleg Morozov: “There is not a single obstacle stopping us accepting all legal procedures the next day after the relevant decision.”

If the new territories are accepted into Russia, then any attack on them will be considered aggression, and will give the Russian authorities the right to respond adequately. Among other things, the Russian military doctrine provides that in cases of aggression against the Russian Federation, when the very existence of the state is threatened, Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons.

The current situation also makes it possible to declare martial law – especially on the territories that are being shelled – with all the resulting restrictions on rights and freedoms.

In fact, by consensus, everyone came to the conclusion that in the face of increasing NATO aggression in Ukraine, holding referendums on the liberated territories is the only way to guarantee people security, stability and a firm belief in the future. And in this regard, the President’s words are symbolic and very appropriate: “We cannot, we have no moral right to hand over people close to us to the executioners, we cannot but respond to their sincere desire to determine their own fate,” the President said. At the same time, the West, according to Putin, unleashed a war in 2014, turning the Ukrainian people into cannon fodder.

On September 23, voting began in four regions of Donbass, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea region. In Russia, polling stations are also open for residents of the respective regions. For example, the Central Election Commission of the LPR has already formed 201 polling stations on the territory of the Russian Federation, and their colleagues of the DPR reported the opening of more than 200 polling stations.


Nikolay Sorokin

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