Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Putin’s Sham Referendums in Ukraine Could Mean Danger for NATO

Ukraine Map 9 2022
Ukraine Map as of September 9, 2022. Image Credit: UK Military.

The Real Reason “Sham” Referendums Will Be Held In Ukraine – Following months of preparations, two Russian-occupied regions in eastern Ukraine have confirmed plans to hold referendums this week, asking local residents whether they want to be governed by Moscow or Kyiv.

The move comes as Russia faces continued losses in eastern Ukraine and appears to be an effort by the remaining Russian-occupied territories in the east to prevent Ukrainian forces from attempting to reclaim even more territory. During the 2014 battle in Crimea, in which Russia illegally annexed the peninsula, referendums were used in the same way – not just to prevent the West from taking action to reverse Russia’s actions but also to provide legitimacy to Putin’s insistence that the territory was Russian.

The referendums are planned to take place in the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, two parts of Ukraine that Putin recognized as independent in a decree in February.

Denis Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic since 2018, said in a social media post addressed to the Russian president that he will ask the people of the region whether they want to become a part of the Russian Federation.

“I ask you, as soon as possible, in the event of a positive decision in the referendum – which we have no doubt about – to consider the DPR becoming a part of Russia,” Pushilin said.

Moscow-backed officials in the Kherson region to the south also said on Tuesday that they would hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation.

The news is significant for many reasons, not least because it diverges from Russia’s original stated goal of “liberating” the regions from Ukraine and recognizing them as independent. Russian negotiators had previously demanded that Ukraine also declare the two separatist states as an independent – a condition Kyiv refused to accept. At the time, it sparked debate over whether Russia would later move to adopt the two self-styled republics into the Russian Federation. Now, it’s clear that Russia intends to incorporate the Donbas region into its own borders.

“Sham” Referendums Likely Won’t Change Much

Just as the West didn’t recognize the Crimean referendum in 2014, these polls are unlikely to have any sway in the West either. Russia will likely use the results of the referendums as a justification to continue fighting in the region, and to sell the war – and all the economic damage that comes with it – to the people of Russia.

Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the referendums this week on Twitter.

Describing the referendums as a “shame,” Kuleba said that they will “not change anything.”

“Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilization,’” he continued. “Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.”

Is Zaporizhzhia Next?

According to the RIA Novosti news agency, Zaporizhzhia could be the next Ukrainian region to hold a referendum. The news appears to confirm talk that Russia will use these referendums in a desperate attempt to maintain control of strategically important territory in Ukraine.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been the source of much controversy since the early days of the war when Russian forces took control of the plant and began using the grounds of the facility to store weapons, ammunition, and military vehicles.

No matter the result of the vote, however, repeated calls for the demilitarization of the nuclear power plant are likely to continue from Western leaders and the International Atomic Energy Agency, meaning Russia won’t win any favor over the continued military presence at the facility.

Other Ideas In Mind?

While it’s obvious that the West won’t recognize the legitimacy of the referendums, Putin will. We can almost say with certainty that these referendums will turn out in Putin’s favor, and if Moscow does recognize the results as legitimate, it means that any fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk – which will almost certainly continue even after the referendum – would be taking place on Russian soil in the eyes of the Kremlin.

That’s a significant change in the dynamics of the war and one that Western leaders must seriously consider. With U.S.-supplied HIMARS doing substantial damage to Russian units in the east, and European-supplied drones and rockets taking out Russian tanks and weapons, Russia may consider the attacks an escalation – a move that could come with uncertain consequences for NATO and U.S. forces in the region if Putin decided to strike back.

TOS-1A Ukraine

TOS-1A fighting in Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

At the same time, it could all be one big bluff. Putin wants the war to end soon, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and these referendums could be just what Putin needs to discourage the West from continuing to help Ukraine reclaim the two contested territories.

Whether the West recognizes the legitimacy of these referendums or chooses to stop providing weapons that might be used on the soon-to-be “Russian territory,” depends on whether Western leaders honestly believe that Russia would respond militarily on NATO soil.

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.

Written By

Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive's Breaking News Editor. He 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.



  1. TotallyNotBiased

    September 20, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    it is last ditch effort by ruskis to force West to negotiation table.
    as a response NATO should arm UAF to the teeth with F16s, ATACMS, Paladins and NASAMS

  2. Vlad has no clothes

    September 20, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    Putin’s hollow threats and claims are immaterial to how NATO would respond to an escalation. If Vlad wants further public humiliation for his underachieving band of thugs just confront NATO…the mismatch of the century.

  3. Jon

    September 20, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    These proposed ‘Referendums’ won’t change anything. The US and NATO have been clear that Ukraine is all lands under its control prior to 2014. They have been clear that Crimea is Ukraine. Russia can yell, and shake its fist and threaten, but no one except Belarus, DPRK and maybe Chechnya, is going to recognize it.

  4. Scottfs

    September 20, 2022 at 5:31 pm

    A sham election is no election.

    The West must continue in spite of the machinations of the delusional Putin. There is dissent in Russia, and the longer the war drags on, the more dissent will bubble up.

    I’m glad folks are remembering the Russian supplied weapons in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere. They did it, we can do it.

    Would Putin use nuclear weapons? Would any mad man? Would underlings follow those orders, knowing it could be the death of billions?

  5. CPT K

    September 20, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    Jon: What matters is not whether NATO considers these areas to be part of Russia or not, what matters is will the Russians truly believe them to be Russia. That’s what will guide any Russian response to any attacks on territory they believe is theirs. They have consistently maintained for decades that attack on their land can be met with a nuclear response, and I’m not sure why we are seemingly incapable of taking them at their word.

    NATO has already cut off Russia close to the furthest extent possible, and they have little to lose. The fundamentals favor Russia the longer the war lasts.

  6. xheavy

    September 21, 2022 at 4:57 am

    The legality or sham elections do not matter. What matters is that they are held.

    Oh look the three UKR Districts voted to become Russia. Lets sign this that and other. Done.

    Whoops, a little matter of a big Red Line Putin has regarding Western Weapons hitting inside Russia or Western Fighters and Ukraine invading Holy Russia etc etc etc.

    Thats the trap. Russian People howls for the demon western nations to be eradicated. Putin smashes the nuclear missile attack button in orgasmic joy.

    We will shoot back. But in such a war there is no winners at all. Just a eradication of all of us. Serves us right.

    I am not anti american. I took the position I took when the actual invasion started knowing that everything that USA, NATO will not do, will do and plans on doing are totally in conflict with the narrative.

    So. Saint Javelin is Celebrated. The Excaliber is raised out of the water in Glory. The various western weapons are being sorted out in UKR against Russians in actual war.

    We learn whats junk and whats good. The Russians get to learn whats really junk and how bad their people have been. Lessons to be relearned all over again in blood.

    I dont think we had 20,000 dead in 30 years war since Beruit 83. But for RU to have 80,000 dead and three times hurt etc.. not to mention UKR and other losses in 8 months is hideous.

    A nuclear war will properly do a Holocaust in 9 million dead inside 9 minutes if done just so. Served instantly and that would just be a beginning with 23 more hours until the end of the first days shooting.

    It will only take one. Just one. Anywhere.

    Putin has absolute power on the nukes. There was a national Geographic Article of Putin’s Nose a few years back when one of their reporters visited him personally deep in a forest. He wanted to charge his cameras using the outlet in the wall that led to a red phone.

    As soon he tried to touch that wire while waiting for Putin a general went crazy and hysterical telling him he would end the world pulling that plug. (Dead hand doctrine when RU Military assumes the loss of link to Putin means hes been killed as a early strike. And then proceed to launch all out against USA etc automatically by computer)

    Little bits and pieces. Its hard to fact check a actual magazine publication quietly gathering dust in the library for all to see. Nose and all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *