We have seen reports on Russian and Ukrainian telegram channels that the Putin-appointed gov’t in Luhansk is calling for a quickly done public referendum for Luhansk to join the Russian Federation as quickly as possible. If this occurs it would make this stolen piece of Ukraine into Russian territory.
Putin could use this as a pretext to claim that Ukraine(and NATO and the US by extension) were attacking Russian territory. There is speculation that this would result in Russia calling for a general mobilization and a widening of the war itself.
A couple of points stand out here.
One, only countries friendly to Russia have recognized the invented states of Luhansk and Donbas as legitimate countries. The UN, along with the rest of the world has rejected them on the proper and legal basis that they were part of the sovereign state of Ukraine and were seized byRussia by force.
Russia has had years to conduct this referendum on Luhansk joining Russia and failed to hold it even when doing so in February might have been used to cover their invasion of Ukraine. We may recall that Putin’s reasoning for the invasion had nothing to do with freeing Luhansk and Donbas from Ukrainian occupation. They invaded Ukraine to de-Nazify what remained of the entire country. The failure to take these actions in the 8 years that have passed since they occupied these regions gives indication that they would not be recognized as legitimate or binding.
Russia has tried to do this with Crimea, claiming that it is Russian territory by popular vote. In early March of 2020
Things moved quickly. By early March, Russian troops had secured the entire Crimean peninsula. On March 6, the Crimean Supreme Council voted to ask the population to accede to Russia. A referendum was scheduled for March 16, which offered only two options; join Russia or go with Crimea’s 1992 constitution, a document which gave the region significant autonomy from the government in Kyiv. The status quo which was Crimea remaining part of Ukraine under the current constitution was not even offered.
The conduct of the referendum was plagued with problems and was held without any credible international observers. Crimean authorities reported the turnout was 83 percent, with 96.7 percent voting to join the Russian Federation. Observers quickly pointed to the obvious inconsitency. Ethnic Ukainians and Tartars made up 40% of Crimea’s population. As it would turn out from a leaked report by Putin’s own Human Rights Counci, the turnout was actually only about 30% with less than half of that 30% voting to join the Russian Federation.
On March 18, Crimean and Russian officials met to sign the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia which Putin ratified the treaty three days later.
The international community has so far refused to consider the accession of Crimea to Russia as legal or legitimate.
The point here is that there have already been attacks by Ukraine into Crimea without Putin screaming that Russia has been attacked and that the entire male population must now be mobilized for total war with Ukraine and the West.
We believe the reason for that is quick simple. Russia can’t afford to equip, arm and feed such an army. About half of its problems in Ukraine right now come down to them not being able to supply its troops in the field. At some point we imagine Russia will begin issuing muzzle loading rifles from the Napoleanic Wars to their troops(They don’t seem to throw anything away).
This is assuming that Russians will even consent to being mobilized. They are not lined up at recruiting stations to fight in Ukraine as it is and a full moblization that the population balks at would put on display to the whole world the tears in Russia’s social fabric we are beginning to see already.
This ad hoc referendum may occur but we doubt it will change anything on the ground or result in a general declaration of war by Russia on Ukraine or the West. Because of security agreements they have signed with other countries in the region, along with China, it would drag them into it as well. There should be serious doubts that China would happily go along with coming to Russia’s aid and declaring war on the West as well. China is not ready for that miitarily, economically or diplomatically with the West.
And they know it.
The US and NATO does a lot of handwringing over the possibility of escalation with Russia. It pretty much drives our policy regarding weapons we send to Ukraine. We assess those fears are overblown, while Putin has done his best with threats of escalation that he does not carry through on. This threat of taking Luhansk into Russia is similar bluster, made to get the international press chattering about the war escalating yet again drawing the US and NATO into direct conflict with each other. It is not something wholly to be dismissed, but at this point in things, Putin has a great deal more to fear from NATO and the US getting involved directly than NATO and the US has to fear from Putin and Russia.