Moscow's decision to hold "referendums" on joining Russia in occupied Ukrainian regions was both anticipated and unexpected. Presumed, because Russian officials and their municipal proxies have been discussing such votes since the beginning of this year's all-out invasion. Unexpected, given that such talk has died down in recent weeks.
Denis Pushilin, the astute leader of the Donetsk "People's Republic" (DNR), reiterated in August that such a vote makes sense only after the full "liberation" (i.e. conquest) of the Donetsk region, where Russia's ragtag forces have made little progress against Ukraine's progressively Western-trained and equipped Armed Forces. And, according to Kirill Stremousov, the speaking leader of the Russian occupation management in the southern region of Kherson, plans for a referendum have been "paused" due to security concerns. The main task now is "to feed and protect the population," he said on state television on September 5, one week after Ukraine's counteroffensive began.
On September 7, United Russia heavyweight Andrei Turchak suggested that referendums be held on November 4, when Russia celebrates Unity Day. However, this drew rare criticism from Luhansk "People's Republic" (LNR) leader Leonid Pasechnik, who retorted that, whilst also his people were ready to vote "any day," a referendum should be maintained only under controlled circumstances, "which is currently impossible due to Ukrainian great powers' attacks."
Turchak's remarks have been overshadowed by Ukraine's unexpected ground operation in the Kharkiv region, which has brought Kiev's forces perilously close to LNR positions in places like Lysychansk. And, lo and behold, those security concerns vanish, and the Kremlin's local stalwarts — Pushilin, Pasechnik, and even Stremousov and Yevgeny Balitsky (the Russian administration's head in the southern parts of the Zaporizhzhia region) — rush to hold that "historical vote" to join Russia.
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