– It is no coincidence that this is happening at the same time

Jakub M. Godzimirski has worked with Russian foreign and security policy at NUPI for over 20 years. Photo: Christopher Olsson

The separatists in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson will hold referendums on 23-27. September on whether the separatist states should join Russia. Reuters reports.

The referendums are passed while Russian forces are under heavy pressure.

The political agenda behind conducting the referendums is that if these areas join Russia, then any attack by Ukraine against these counties will be seen as an attack on Russia.

– The referendums have been on the steps for several months. The only reason they could have had legitimacy was if everyone who lived in Donetsk and Luhansk before 2014 had also had the right to vote, says Nupi researcher and Russia expert, Jakub Godzimirski to TV 2.

Bill on mobilization

At the same time as the news of referendums became known, reports Moscow Times that Russian elected officials passed new bills which entail long prison sentences for military refusal, surrender and desertion.

– Is it a coincidence that this is happening at the same time as a bill on mobilisation?

– It is not accidental. If every attack on Luhansk or Donetsk is an attack on Russia, Russia has the legitimacy to forcibly conscript boys and men from all over Russia, to defend the motherland, says Godzimirki.

Prison for conscientious objection

The bill means that a soldier who voluntarily surrenders to the enemy must be punished with ten years in prison. Military refusal during mobilisation, or desertion in a war situation will also be punishable by ten years’ imprisonment.

The bill introduces terms such as “martial law”, “mobilization” and “wartime”, which have not previously been used by the Russian authorities in connection with the so-called “military special operation”, human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov points out in his Telegram channel.

The bill will be sent to the Upper House on Wednesday, and forwarded to Putin, who can sign the amendment as early as Friday.

– Many will react to forced conscription

The researcher believes this is a desperate attempt to change the pressured situation Russia is in now.

– The big question is what happens when Russians have to send their sons, fathers and husbands to war against their will. Many will react to it. If resistance increases in Moscow and St. Petersburg, there could be an uprising, he says.

No one knows exactly what the Russians think about the war. The opinion polls carried out by the authorities are not to be trusted. But there are many indications that more and more people believe that the cost of this war is greater than the gain.

Putin fears public opinion and will avoid declaring war for the longest time, the researcher believes. He believes it is important not to underestimate how effective the Russian propaganda is.


Russian-backed separatists have controlled parts of both Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014. Kherson and Zaporizhzhya have been under occupation since the invasion last spring.

The referendum was passed unanimously in the separatist states’ parliaments, according to the authorities’ own news agencies LIT. According to the state-controlled Russian news agency Interfax there is also a referendum in Zaporizhzhya and Kherson counties.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a referendum on the matter that was not internationally recognized.

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