Red Lines and Referendums In Eastern Ukraine May Change the Nature of the Conflict

Control of territory in the Ukraine/Russia conflict as of September 27, 2022. Map created by the Institute for the Study of War and AEI’s Critical Threats Project
Referendums were held in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia (Zaporozhye), and Kherson regions. These regions correlate with the Russian-controlled territory as indicated on the territory control map posted above.

The parliaments of the people’s republics of Donbass, as well as the military-civilian administrations of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, decided to hold referendums on the future of these territories and turned to us, Russia, with a request to support such a step. Let me emphasize that we will do everything to ensure safe conditions for holding referendums, so that people can express their will. And we will support the decision about their future, which will be made by the majority of residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.

As indicated by the included maps, these regions are all within an area currently controlled by the Russian military. Military control, a claimed history of Ukrainian government hostility towards the people of the regions, along with this likely newly expressed backing of Russia via the democratic process, all point toward the inevitable (and logical) result of Ukraine losing control of these regions and an end to this phase of the conflict. With winter coming, none of the actors involved will wish to escalate at this point if they can help it. Along with the people of the disputed regions, Russia can claim a victory in the gaining of the territory and in securing the protection of the people in those regions which is primarily what they desired in the first place. The West can keep the gas flowing to Europe during the winter and push a propaganda win by claiming the Russians were pushed out of Kharkov and of course western Ukraine in general. The Kiev regime can claim a win because they are still in power despite the attacks from their militarily superior adversary and can avoid economic and humanitarian catastrophe by standing down during the winter months.

As with the status of Crimea before it, Russia gaining this territory via referendum and a possible lull in hostilities does not automatically mean the end of the conflict or signal a slow return to normal relations. That must come with a will to negotiate via the diplomatic process and a change in outlook regarding the relations between east and west. If avoiding conflict and finding the logical solutions was the goal, a similar result ought to have happened months ago via negotiation to avoid the predictable bloodshed and destruction. Great power politics however are always complicated affairs. Such relations unfortunately have been largely out of the spotlight in the US in recent years as domestic concerns have dominated the news cycle. If justice and peace are still valued in the West, we ought to reject the “good vs evil” dichotomy too often propagated in the media regarding these affairs. We must reevaluate the merits of our own actions and ensure they are in line with our principles. This current conflict in Ukraine is far from black and white and given the stakes that come with war between great powers today, we better ensure our representatives are acting in accord with our values and with the reasonable interests of all in mind.

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