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Russia barrels ahead towards annexation A summary of Russia’s ‘referendum’ plans and new mobilization laws
After months of uncertainty surrounding the Russian authorities' plans to conduct "referendums" on annexing Ukraine's occupied territories, the Kremlin postponed the project “indefinitely” in early September due to Ukraine’s successful Kharkiv offensive. On September 20, however, Russian-installed officials in the occupied territories announced that definitive dates for the “referendums” have been chosen: September 23–27. Meanwhile, deputies in Russia's State Duma unanimously passed a number of changes to the Criminal Code introducing the concepts of "mobilization" and "martial law," as well as new penalties for wartime crimes. Here are the key points.
Russian-backed officials in the occupied territories of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions have called for “referendums on joining Russia.” On September 20, the "public council" of the occupation administration in the Kherson region appealed to administration head Vladimir Saldo to hold a vote, while the head of the occupation administration in the Zaporizhzhia region was lobbied by members of the local public movement “We’re Together with Russia.” Both organizations’ statements said that annexation would ensure the occupied regions' security.
The occupation administration in the Kherson region announced that it will conduct a “referendum on becoming a part of the Russian Federation.” The news was reported by occupation administration head Vladimir Saldo, who said he believes the Kremlin will accept the results of the vote. After the “referendum,” Saldo said, he plans to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to confirm the results “as soon as possible.” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the occupation administration, claimed that about 80 percent of residents in the Kherson region plan to vote in the “referendum.”
The “referendums” in Ukraine’s occupied territories will be held on September 23–27, two sources close to the Putin administration told Meduza. The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” where the occupation administrations’ public chambers called for “referendums” on September 19, have officially scheduled voting for those days. The head of the occupation administration in the Kherson region also reported that voting will be held on the same dates, as did the head of the occupation administration in the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevhen Balytskyi.
On September 20, the “people’s councils” of the “DNR” and “LNR” passed laws on holding “referendums on joining the Russian Federation as a federal subject.” The law in the “LNR” has already been signed by occupation administration head Leonid Pasechnik, while “DNR” head Denis Pushilin has asked Vladimir Putin to “consider the issue of the DNR becoming part of the Russian Federation as soon as possible in the case of a positive decision on the results of the referendum.”
Russia controls only parts of the regions it plans to annex. By Meduza’s estimates, Russian troops have occupied 93 percent of the Kherson region, 65 percent of the Zaporizhzhia region, 99 percent of the Luhansk region, and 64–65 percent of the Donetsk region.
The Russian authorities expressed their support for the “referendums.” “The referendum is needed, and has been for a long time,” said United Russia General Secretary Andrey Turchak. “[...] A free and fair election will enshrine the de jure results once and for all. The Donbas and the liberated territories are already de facto part of Russia.” At a State Duma session on September 20, Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that if the “DNR” and “LNR” vote for “joining Russia,” Russian deputies “should support that.”
Also on September 20, The Russian State Duma introduced the concepts of “mobilization” and “martial law” to the Criminal Code. All 389 members of the body voted to pass the law, which added new articles on “voluntary surrender” (punishable by up to 10 years in prison) and “looting” (punishable by up to 15 years in prison). In addition, committing a crime “during mobilization or martial law, in wartime” was added to the list of aggravating circumstances. One of the amendments’ authors, Senator Olga Kovitidi, said that the new laws don’t mean Russia is mobilizing: “Insofar as this law is concerned, mobilization has not been declared in the country.”
The law also increased the penalty for unauthorized abandonment of a unit during mobilization or martial law to 10 years in prison. Additionally, it introduces punishment for the failure of a subordinate to comply with the order of a superior given during martial law, in wartime, or during an armed conflict, as well as for refusal to participate in military or combat activities. According to the adopted amendments, this could result in two to three years in prison.
Outside of the Criminal Code, the State Duma passed a law simplifying the Russian citizenship process for foreigners who serve in the Russian military.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak responded to the news of the “referendums” by threatening to “solve the Russian question.” On Telegram, he wrote the following:
Naive blackmail through threats and horror stories about “referendums” and “mobilization” of people only capable of fighting against children and civilians… That’s what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid, and it’s primitively manipulating people. Ukraine will solve the Russian question. The threat can only be eliminated by force.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement that “neither fake ‘referendums’ nor hybrid ‘mobilization’ will change anything.” “Russia was and is an aggressor state that’s illegally occupying part of Ukraine’s territory. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will continue liberating them, no matter what Russia says,” Kuleba said.
Amid the growing geopolitical risks, the Moscow Stock Exchange index fell almost 7 percent, dipping below 2,300 points for the first time since late August. Shares of many Russian companies, including Gazprom, Sberbank, and VK, fell by more than 10 percent.
According to RBK, Vladimir Putin plans to address the nation on Tuesday evening regarding the "referendums."
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