Voting has concluded in four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, where what’s left of the local population were asked in illegal and unofficial referendums whether they want their territories to be absorbed into the Russian Federation.
The votes took place in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and involved Russian soldiers going door-to-door to ask residents whether they want to remain under the control of Kyiv.
The results, unsurprisingly, showed overwhelming support for the Kremlin and have now given Russian President Vladimir Putin the justification he needs to illegally annex any part of these territories his military is physically capable of annexing.
What Were the Results in Ukraine?
Russian state media revealed that, after five days of voting, a vast majority of people voted in favor of their region joining the Russian Federation.
In the Donetsk People’s Republic. 97.51% of people voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation.
In the Luhansk People’s Republic, 92.6% of people voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation.
In Zaporizhzhia, 85.4% of people voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation.
And in Kherson, some 76.86% of voters sided with Russia.
Video footage of pro-Russian leaders of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic celebrating was released on Tuesday night. Activists and politicians looked relieved as they hugged and celebrated in front of local media, claiming to have achieved the support of virtually everybody in the contested region.
Pro/Russian Donetsk People’s Republic (Donetsk region Ukraine) officially announce that the referendum to join Russia has passed “According to the results of processing 100% of ballots in the 2022 Referendum in the DPR for joining to Russia voted:
✅ – 99.23% in favor” pic.twitter.com/RjA27ngu0N
— Patrick Lancaster (@PLnewstoday) September 27, 2022
Other outlets claim that the results were even more strongly in favor of Russia, with over 99% of people in Donetsk voting to join the Russian Federation, and over 98% saying the same in Luhansk.
The figures are startling and significantly higher than similar referendums held in Western Europe in recent years. In 2016, 52% of British voters sided with the country leaving the European Union and 48% of voters preferred to stay a member. In 2014, Scottish voters voted by similar margins to stay a member of the United Kingdom.
Also in 2014, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un claimed to have won 100% of the vote in a parliamentary election.
Results as high as 99% in such contentious referendums rarely, if ever, occur in a fair vote.
The figures were expected to be artificially high given the many millions of Ukrainians who have already fled the country from these four occupied regions. Any pro-Kyiv residents remaining in these regions may have also simply refused to take part in the illegitimate referendums. At the same time, there is no telling how much fraud and misconduct took place to achieve such astronomically high figures.
Similarly high figures were achieved in the 1938 Austrian Anschluss referendum, a vote that was held in German-occupied Austria. After occupying the region in March of that year, ahead of a planned referendum by the Austrian government to assert its sovereignty, German forces held their own referendum and blocked political enemies from taking part. The results showed 99.73% support for Austria to be “reunified” with the German Reich, with a turnout of 99.71%. Communists and socialists were blocked from taking part in the election, as were citizens of Jewish and Roma origin.
Ballots issued to eligible residents in the election were asked:
“Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the list of our leader Adolf Hitler?”
The parallels between the two votes are hard to ignore, but the results will undoubtedly be used by the Kremlin to justify the continued military push in Ukraine to Russian citizens. No longer just a vanity project for Russian President Vladimir Putin to rebuild his Russian empire, this dangerous war will be pitched as an effort to rescue the Russian people ruled by a government they overwhelmingly oppose.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.