The advance of Ukrainian troops in the east of the country is causing nervousness in Donbass controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The Public Chambers of the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Luhansk (PLR) and Donetsk (DPR) have called for the immediate holding of a referendum to join Russia, in the hope that if Moscow considers them part of Russia it will increase its military strength and reject the progress of the Kyiv forces.
Concerns have increased after this month's sweeping Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv province and the entry of its troops into Luhansk province, with Russia no longer in complete control of this territory. On Monday afternoon the Ukrainian army crossed the border of that region, which Russia considered fully taken last July.
According to the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, Sergiy Gaidai, Ukrainian troops already control several small towns, such as Bilohorivka, just six kilometers from Lisichansk, the last city the Russians took in July.
The Public Chamber of the RPL appealed to the leader of the region, Leonid Passechnik, and the People's Council (which functions as a parliament) to speed up the holding of a referendum on joining Russia due to "the events of the last few days", in which that "the Kyiv nationalists crossed all the red lines".
The vice president of that consultative body, Lina Vokálova, assured on the Telegram channel of the Luhansk Information Center that "the entry into Russia will not only be a triumph of historical justice, but will also protect the territory of the Republic."
Luhansk and Donetsk have been joined on Tuesday by the Public Chamber of the pro-Russian administration in the province of Jerson. "We are going to Russia, and there is no reason not to understand this," Kiril Stremoúsov, deputy head of that pro-Russian territory, said on Telegram.
In Gaidai's opinion, holding these referendums could lead Russia to call for a general mobilization of its population to fight in Ukraine.
"The occupiers can hold a fake referendum, rush it in any way and recognize the results. According to those results, everyone will 'want' to join the Russian Federation," Gaidai told Radio Svoboda. In this way, Moscow would consider the Ukrainian offensive "as a direct attack on Russia", which "will allow general mobilization and declare war", he pointed out.
The proposal could not go forward, since both the pro-Russian leaders and the Kremlin thought that this vote should be organized after the end of the "special military operation" and the "liberation" of Donetsk and Luhansk.
On September 7, Denís Pushilin, head of the DPR, pointed out that "there is a liberation operation under way, it is a matter of time", adding that the referendum draws closer with each "reconquered" meter.
But that was said before the spectacular Ukrainian advance. This Tuesday he asked Pásechnik to combine efforts to prepare for the vote.
And it is that the Ukrainian successes on the battlefield have changed the scenario.
Former Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, also a former Prime Minister and currently Vice President of the Security Council, has also spoken on this issue. This Tuesday he has written on social networks that it is "essential" that the referendums be held in the RPD and the RPL. According to him, it is a vital step to protect their interests and could further justify Russia's use of military force to protect them.
"The invasion of the territory of Russia is a crime that allows you to use all the self-defense forces. That is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and the West. And that is why they must be organized," Medvedev said.
In the pro-Russian entities of Donbass, there has been talk of joining Russia since 2014, when the attempt to separate from Ukraine ended in war. Pro-Russian officials in other parts of Ukraine taken over by Russian troops since entering the neighboring country have been saying for months that they are preparing their respective referendums.
The RBK newspaper, citing sources from the Kremlin administration, published at the beginning of September, before the Ukrainian counter-offensive, that it was contemplating to hold referendums on the integration of Russia in the DPR and LPR, but also in the territories it controlled in Kharkiv. , Zaporizhia and Kherson. It was given as a deadline before the end of autumn.
After almost seven months of armed conflict, the Russian and pro-Russian troops have not been able to defeat the Ukrainian resistance in the Donetsk province, and in Luhansk, depending on the Ukrainian push, they could retreat. Ukraine still controls part of the territory of Kherson and Zaporizhia. And most of Kharkiv is back in Kyiv's hands after this month's counteroffensive.
Andrei Turchak, secretary of the leadership of the ruling United Russia party, proposed to hold these votes due to their symbolism on November 4, the Day of Popular Unity, which commemorates in Russia the uprising that in 1612 expelled the Polish-Lithuanian occupation forces.
Sergei Aksionov, head of Crimea, believes that "in the current situation it can be quite logical and reasonable to annex territories without referendums." Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, after holding a referendum condemned by the international community.