The Referendums for Reunification with Russia the geopolitical stakes of a democratic choice
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The referendums organised at the request of the two people's republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (independent since 2014 and recognised by Russia on 21 February 2022) but also in the territories of Zaporizhia and Kherson, have a historical and geopolitical significance on several levels, as it is not only a question of the process of Russian reunification but also of the consolidation of global multipolarity.
Following this plebiscite, the result of which was overwhelmingly in favour of reunification with Russia, the Federation council and the Duma (Federal Assembly) ratified the treaties on 3 and 4 October the treaties on the reunification of the two republics and the two territories with the Russian Federation, after their signature on September 30 by Vladimir Putin and the separatist leaders.
I participated as an international observer in the referendum on the attachment of these territories to Russia, not only to contribute to the transparency and smooth running of a democratic process in the exceptional circumstances of a conflict, but also as a professional geopolitician to observe closely a historical event and to understand its geopolitical significance. I am not unfamiliar with this type of mission as I have been an international observer on several occasions for the presidential and parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan and the regional elections in Russia. More than 130 international observers from all continents travelled to the places where the referendums were held.
The angle of geopolitical analysis, if it is to be complete, must combine reflection on the issues at stake at different spatial scales and in historical depth. Understanding a conflict also requires observing the reality on the ground, and thus travelling to see the situation with one's own eyes and exchanging with the populations on their perceptions of the events.
There is no more appropriate approach than a referendum to ask the population to which state they wish to belong and thus choose their own future. This is the right of peoples to sovereignty and freedom. These referendums are not only instruments of direct democracy, but also a necessary step to stabilise the geopolitical situation, and to consider an exit from the conflict. It was the best way to try to move towards peace.
From the point of view of international law, these referendums fall within the framework of the right of peoples to self-determination, enshrined in the United Nations Charter[i].
From a geohistorical point of view, i.e. the long history of the territories, these referendums are part of the process of Russian reunification. The attachment of these territories to the Russian Federation was recognised by Russia on September 30 2022, following the unambiguous results of the referendums, which constituted a genuine plebiscite for membership of Russia.
Indeed, these territories, which are part of "Novorussia" (New Russia), were incorporated into Tsarist Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great in the 18th century and were obviously part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when it broke up. Their belonging to Ukraine, which became independent only three decades ago, has been particularly contested since the regime change in Kiev in 2014 and Ukraine's military offensive against the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, which had self-proclaimed their independence. The inhabitants of these republics have never considered as legitimate the regime change brought about by Ukrainian extremists referring to the ideology of Stepan Bandera with the support of the US and its close NATO allies. Many people also believe that the separation of Russia and Ukraine in 1991 should never have happened, following the referendum of 17 March 1991 in which Soviet citizens voted for the maintenance of a state unit to replace the Soviet Union[ii], but infighting and Boris Yeltsin's seizure of power decided otherwise.
I therefore travelled as an international observer to Lugansk and Tangarog (near Rostov, where there are many refugees) in the Donbass region to observe the referendum process and the way it was conducted in many polling stations.
As I was able to see during my exchanges with the inhabitants of the Lugansk People's Republic, but also with the Donbass refugees living in the Rostov region, there was an almost unanimous desire for a return to Russia. When we exchanged information with other observers who travelled to the other oblasts where a referendum was being held (Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporijjia), we found the same enthusiasm for a return to Russia.
What are their motivations? The inhabitants of these territories hope to finally be safe and give their children a viable future. They have repeatedly reminded me that the Kiev regime has been bombing the Donbass on a daily basis since 2014 and has committed numerous exactions against Russian speakers in the territories still under Kiev's control, facts that have been widely documented[iii]. Kiev has also long neglected these regions economically, and they are finally hoping for more prosperity. The reunification of Crimea with Russia is a model with improved infrastructure, but also schools, playgrounds for children.... They also express a deep attachment to the Russian world. For these inhabitants, these referendums mark the return to Russia, their historical homeland, and this corresponds to their deep identity. Many inhabitants of Donbass have been waiting for such a referendum since 2014 and others have even expressed their regrets over the separation between Russia and Ukraine since 1991 after the disappearance of the USSR.
During the voting in this referendum, I did not see any pressure or threats from the Russian armed forces, contrary to what has been said and written in a false way in many media in NATO member states and the EU, including France.
The organisation of the referendum was also very effective at a very difficult time. Indeed, the inhabitants were under constant threat of bombardments by the Ukrainian army to prevent them from voting, but this did not hinder their determination to participate, only to decrease the turnout in the most exposed territories in the Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts.
The referendums were held over a six-day period from 23 to 28 September to maximise participation, and technically they were in line with world standards. Infrastructures such as schools, theatres, but also buses were made available to be as close as possible to the inhabitants and to have a maximum participation were made available. The polling station assessors verified the identity of voters on lists, and then voters were able to go to a polling booth to fill in the ballot paper and then deposit it in the ballot box. The ballots were then counted as they were collected from the securely stored ballot boxes.
These referendums also have a global historical significance, as they are not only about the process of Russian reunification, but also about the consolidation of global multipolarity.
The question of the legality of referendums: international law and geopolitics
From the point of view of international law, these referendums fall within the framework of the right of peoples to self-determination.
Contrary to what is asserted by the governments of the EU and NATO member states, led by the United States, which interpret this event in a unilateral manner, these referendums and the attachment of the territories to the Russian Federation are not illegal from the point of view of international law, because in a multipolar world, there is no longer any monopoly on the interpretation of international law. These referendums are therefore legitimate from the point of view of the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination, because today, the interpretation of international law is no longer the monopoly of the United States and its NATO allies.
Moreover, there was no agreement in the UN Security Council (permanent members) for a resolution condemning the annexation of the territories to the Russian Federation because of Russia's veto in full compliance with the UN rules[iv]. These allow Russia as a permanent member to defend its interests, which it considers paramount, as other permanent members of the Security Council have been able to do on other issues (permanent members: USA, France, China, UK, Russia). The lack of condemnation of these referendums is therefore perfectly legal from the point of view of the functioning of the Security Council, and if we wanted it to be otherwise, we would first have to unanimously reform the functioning of the UN. The draft resolution, circulated by the US and Ukraine to the enlarged Security Council, was approved by only ten of the fifteen members of the enlarged Council, with Russia voting against and four members, Brazil, China, Gabon and India abstaining. However, the General Assembly of the 193 UN member states adopted a non-binding (and therefore ineffective) resolution[v] condemning the "illegal annexations" with 143 votes in favour, against five countries (Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Nicaragua) and 35 abstaining, including China, India, Pakistan, Armenia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Congo, Algeria, Vietnam and all of Central Asia, and 10 not voting, including Iran, Azerbaijan, Venezuela and Cameroon. .. The states that did not condemn Russia represent almost half of the world's population and this episode once again underlines the new multipolar configuration, the disagreements on the interpretation of international law and the impossibility of isolating Russia despite pressure from Western governments.
The European Union's proposal to sanction[vi] observers from EU member states who have been monitoring these referendums on the ground is an outrageous attempt at intimidation to prevent them from testifying to the reality on the ground that does not fit the spurious narrative disseminated by the European Union. It is also a further opportunity to tarnish Russia's reputation in synergy with NATO and the United States, and an attack on the freedom of observers to form an opinion for themselves. If it succeeds with the agreement of the member states, it would be a first in the history of referendum processes and a serious setback for freedom of opinion. The European Union seeks to sanction democracy when it does not fit its exclusive Euro-Atlantic and anti-Russian ideology.
Before these referendums can be unanimously declared illegal, there must first be a unanimous interpretation of international law. This is obviously impossible because there is no agreement between the major state powers either on the interpretation of norms or on the reform of the multilateral system that elaborates international law. Therefore, let us also examine the growing inability of states to agree on a common interpretation of international law.
Any international order is necessarily a spatial (and therefore geopolitical) order, as French political scientist Raymond Aron[vii] has pointed out. As there is no agreement on the spatial/geopolitical order between the great powers, there can be no agreement on the interpretation of the international normative regime. In the absence of a multilateral consensus, there are therefore only unilateral interpretations of the law.
This legal no-man's land is above all the consequence of the unilateral interpretation, or the non-respect of international law by the United States and its NATO allies during its previous crises: the NATO operation in Kosovo, the invasion of Iraq, the military operation in Libya... in the unipolar geopolitical context. It should be recalled that in Syria, American bases and Turkish soldiers occupy part of the Syrian territory, not to mention the annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel. The Turkish army also occupies the northern part of Cyprus, an EU member state. Who cares today? The principles of the UN Charter, the right of peoples to self-determination but also the territorial integrity of states, have been instrumentalised according to the geopolitical interests of the US and its NATO allies during their period of world domination (the unipolar moment) after the demise of the USSR. The United States made it clear made it clear following a NATO military operation against Yugoslavia that the principle of territorial integrity of states did not prevent the secession of a territory in the case of Kosovo[viii].
From a geohistorical point of view, there is no ambiguity regarding this double standard of Western states. NATO militarily attacked Yugoslavia until Kosovo's secession from Serbia/Yugoslavia, even though it is a Serbian territory from the geohistorical point of view (the independence referendum was organised after the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs), while the USA, the EU and NATO deny the right of secession to the Donbass republics and the territories of Kherson and Zaporizhia on the occasion of a referendum, although they are Russian territories from the point of view of geohistory.
International law is always a consequence of geopolitical power relations and as these evolve, the interpretation of international law and legal norms evolve and are subject to conflicting interpretations in today's emerging multipolar world.
The geostrategic context of these referendums is therefore also very important in understanding the stakes of this episode. The United States and its NATO allies (we speak of the West, a geopolitical representation resulting from the Cold War and the unipolar moment that followed the disappearance of the USSR and designates the states that make up the Atlantic alliance with the United States as leader) have exercised their supremacy in Western Europe and in the depths of the European continent with the successive enlargements of NATO. The special military operation of the Russian army is first and foremost a consequence of the rapprochement of NATO and its military bases on Russia's borders, which is obviously perceived as a threat to Russia and which therefore requires a rebalancing of geopolitical forces. It is also the consequence of the non-implementation of the Minsk agreements, torpedoed precisely by Kiev pushed by Washington to pursue the enlargement of NATO[ix], the imminent aggression of the Ukrainian army[x] against the independent republics of Donbass in 2022, but also the unavoidable NATOisation of the Ukrainian territory without formal membership, by means of military cooperation agreements between NATO and Kiev, and the threat to make Ukraine a nuclear power by calling into question the Budapest Memorandum[xi]. The security of the inhabitants of the independent Donbass republics recognised by Russia in February 2022 has been threatened for more than 8 years, as a result of which Russia intervened under Article 51 of Chapter VII of the United Nations[xii]. Russia also put forward to the Security Council Article 107 of the UN, which allows it to take measures against countries where there are attempts to revive Nazism[xiii].
Unexplicitly, the geopolitical objective of the US is to transform Ukraine into a new anti-Russian nation based on the ideology of Ukrainian supremacism (with Stepan Bandera, a Nazi ally during the Second World War, as its national hero and symbol). The aim is to destabilise Russia, promote regime change, and ultimately dismantle Russia's territory. This is not new, this strategy has been tried in the past by Washington with the creation of West Germany against East Germany, South Korea against North Korea, Taiwan against China...
It is a geopolitical misjudgement to believe that Moscow would not at some point react to this aggression by the United States and NATO over the long term (see geopolitical map: the crisis in Ukraine, a consequence of NATO expansion), especially since the Russia-Georgia war demonstrated that NATO's expansion into Ukraine was a casus belli. I stated this as early as 2008 in an article published by the journal Défense Nationale[xiv]. Moreover, one can imagine the reaction of the United States if Moscow were to install military bases in Canada or Mexico.
As the current governments of NATO member states promote a unipolar world and want to slow down multipolarity (which challenges their supremacy), they will try to impose a unilateral interpretation of international law, but with reference to a spatial and geopolitical order that no longer exists in the world.
Indeed, the states of Eurasia but also of Africa and South America (representing the majority of the world's population) have not aligned themselves with the policy of sanctions against Russia, marking their disapproval of the unipolar world project. Only the European Union remains a prisoner of this American hegemony, even if there are growing cracks in the EU and NATO (Hungary and the differing postures of the member states)
If the governments of NATO member states persist in declaring these referendums illegal and illegitimate, Moscow's interpretation will not become more illegitimate. It should never be forgotten that it is the balance of power and geopolitical equilibrium that determine international law, not the other way around.
The Russian special military operation of a limited character to defend the Russian world also aims to change the global geopolitical configuration according to Archimedes' principle by bringing about changes in the global alliance system, in order to accelerate the emergence of the multipolar world. The referendums held in the wake of this special operation paved the way for Russian reunification to accompany and reinforce the emergence of the multipolar world. This is why the US and its NATO/EU allies are opposed to it, because they want to maintain the unipolar illusion and US supremacy in Europe and in the world.
This determination to preserve a unipolar world dominated by a Great Americanised West, and thus to align itself with the unilateral interpretation of the law by the United States, is not in France's interest according to the Gaullist vision. This Russian reunification is just as legitimate as German reunification (it should be remembered that the integration of the territories of the former East Germany into West Germany was achieved without a referendum). However, German reunification corresponded to the geopolitical interests of the NATO member states, whereas Russian reunification goes against the geopolitical objectives of the United States and its closest NATO allies, who seek to fragment the Russian world (separating Russia and Ukraine) and push Russia back into its continental lands in order to ensure their own supremacy in Eurasia (and thus in Europe) but also in the world.
We are in fact facing two rival geopolitical visions, "Euramerica from Vancouver to Kiev" versus "Europe from Brest to Vladivostok". This decisive battle taking place in Ukraine was provoked by the US to torpedo any continental agreement on the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, because an alliance between Germany, France and Russia would be able to counterbalance the US and its loyal second-in-command, the UK, and counter the hegemonic project of the Anglo-Saxons.
Behind the referendums: a civilisational geopolitical conflict
The debate on the legitimacy of referendums is representative in France and in the European Union of rival geopolitical visions of the world and of Europe. Geopolitics is also the rivalry of ideologies and civilisational value systems on the territory. We are touching here on meta-geopolitics.
Those who are opposed to these referendums refer to the notion of the West, i.e. the Euro-Atlantic space under the domination of the United States, which General de Gaulle referred to as "American Europe", while those who view these referendums favourably refer to civilisational Europe and the Europe of nations from Paris to Moscow, i.e. "European Europe", the alternative notion promoted by General de Gaulle.
Westerners do not want Russian reunification, while true Europeans see it as a natural process.
The US/NATO conflict against Russia in the Ukrainian theatre, with the Kiev regime as a proxy, is also a war of the West (under American domination) against civilisational Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific, based on the model of a Europe of sovereign nations. The two representations, the "West" and "Europe", which were once close, no longer merge and are even increasingly opposed.
Vladimir Putin thus emphasised in his speech[xv] of September 30 that it was a conflict between Russia and the Collective West, i.e. NATO under American leadership, but not with Ukraine and even less with Europe (of which Russia is a part). The latter are also victims of this Westernist hegemony and its destructive neo-liberal ideology of nations and their sovereignty but also of their traditional values. For these Westernist regimes, declaring that Russia is the
aggressor allows them to conceal the long history of this conflict. Vladimir Putin pulverises this narrative by underlining that this conflict is above all a decisive battle in the Ukrainian theatre over the long history of Russian civilisation against the imperialist West, the real aggressor.
His speech is in fact also a helping hand to the peoples of Europe as well as of the whole
world, who do not define themselves as part of this Americanised West based on the Anglo-Saxon ideological model of liberal democracy. This model is based on no-border ideoloy, a society open to all flows, including mass immigration, individualism, wokism, national uprooting and the neglect of history and geography, the promotion of ethnic and gender minorities, and the transformation of citizens into rootless individuals, deprived of all national and ethno-cultural characteristics. This westernisation is an Americanisation of the world, the liquid world of maritime power against the rooted nations of continental Europe, of which Russia has remained the bastion, because the further west one goes in Eurasia, the more the peoples have been Americanised, i.e. liquidated in liberal globalisation. The French, German and Italian nations, which have lost their sovereignty, have everything to gain from this transformation of the global geopolitical configuration towards a more balanced multipolar world. The de facto cobelligerence of NATO.[xvi] and the governments of European states with an Atlanticist bias (delivery of heavy lethal weapons, training of Ukrainian soldiers on the territory of NATO member states, cooperation on intelligence, communication warfare, etc.) in favour of the Kiev regime and against Russia therefore goes against the interests the deep-rooted European nations.
The notion of the West, kidnapped by the Atlanticists and Westerners during the Cold War and brought to the fore today, should also be revisited. It is indeed an abuse to speak of the "West" in opposition to Russia, because Russia is an integral part of the European civilisation born of Christianity and constitutes its eastern pillar. The opposition put forward by Westerners between democracy (the West) and dictatorship (Russia) is obsolete and ideological in nature. Russia also belongs to the geographical and civilisational Europe and is therefore not separable from the rest of Europe.
Following the referendums, the incorporation of these new territories and their inhabitants into the Russian Federation changes their legal status, as the Ukrainian government is now waging a war against Russia if it wants to reclaim these territories reunited with Russia. It is also an increasingly dangerous situation, as Kiev's supporters, the NATO member states, led by Washington but also Paris, are already in a de facto co-belligerent position against Russia and risk escalating this global hybrid conflict.
This co-belligerence of Paris, by alignment with the geopolitical priorities of Washington and London and its proxy, the Kiev regime, but also by opportunism of the military-industrial complex[xvii], is in total contradiction with the geopolitical interests of France as a nation of equilibrium according to the Gaullist doctrine.
Let us recall in this respect the words of General de Gaulle:
"But if, in the strategic order, nothing has yet occurred that is more fruitful than the defeat inflicted on Hitler by Stalin on the Eastern European front, in the political order the certain appearance of Russia in the front rank of tomorrow's victors brings to Europe and to the world a guarantee of equilibrium of which no Power has, as much as France, good reason to be pleased. For the general misfortune, too often for centuries the Franco-Russian alliance was prevented or thwarted by intrigue or misunderstanding. It remains nevertheless a necessity that appears at every turn in history. (speech given on the BBC during the programme "Les Français parlent aux Français", 20 January 1942).
Let us not forget either that France's vocation is to be on the side of free peoples, and that is why the freely consented reunification of the Russian people by referendum is legitimate for the French who have not forgotten France's geopolitical message to the world. The meaning of history is the reunification of Russia.
[iii] https://ofpra.gouv.fr , OFPRA Ukraine
[vii] Aron Raymond, Paix et guerre entre les nations, Calman-Levy, p. 187
[viii] https://www.google.com/search?q=www.icj-icc.org+Kosovo+Question+pos%C3%A9e+by+M. +le+juge+Koroma+Il+a+%C3%A9t%C3%A9+affirm%C3%A9+que&client=firefox-b- d&sxsrf=ALiCzsbYDDHKp9u4S4zAJ85zqoZI1DHB_A%3A1665324042857&ei=CtRCY_nuM6zikgW00JKoCw&ved=0ahUKEwj5m4rAp9P6AhUssaQKHTSoBLUQ4dUDCA0&uact=5&oq=www. icj-icc.org+Kosovo+Question+posed%C3%A9e+by+M. +the+judge+Koroma+has+a+%C3%A9t%C3%A9+affirmed%C3%A9+that&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAM6CggAEEcQ1gQQsAM6BQgAEKIEOgcIABAeEKIESgQIQRgASgQIRhgAUKEGWLEQYM0XaAFwAXgAgAGqAYgBkAKSAQMwLjKYAQCgAQGgAQLIAQjAAQE&sclient=gws- wiz
[ix] According to Petro Poroshenko, "we have achieved the implementation of what we wanted. We did not believe Putin, as we do not believe him today. Our task was, first of all, to remove the threat or at least postpone the war [with Russia]. To secure eight years to be able to restore economic growth and strengthen the armed forces. That was the first task, and it has been accomplished," https://fra.mobileapiru.com/international/99230-ancien-president-porochenko-admet-accords-minsk-serv...
[x] On this subject, read Jacques Baud's analysis on the website of the Centre français de recherche sur le renseignement (CFR2). ( French intelligence research centre). https://cf2r.org/documentation/la-situation-militaire-en-ukraine/
Interview: Jacques Baud: "The Americans have instrumentalised Ukraine in a perverse way". Sud Radio-22 March 2022
[xi] Volodymyr Zelenski declared that "Since 2014, Ukraine has tried three times to convene consultations with the guarantor states of the Budapest Memorandum. Three times without success. Today Ukraine will do it for the fourth time. I, as President, will do this for the first time. But both Ukraine and I are doing this for the last time. I am initiating consultations in the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was commissioned to convene them. If they do not happen again or their results do not guarantee security for our country, Ukraine will have every right to believe that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and all the package decisions of 1994 are in doubt"
[xii] United Nations Charter, Chapter VII:
Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.
[xiv] "Russia considers that the policy of enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance supported by the United States and its allies is aimed at its encirclement. Whether one interprets this perception as exaggerated or relevant does not change the fact that it must be taken into account. Russia has demonstrated in the conflict with Georgia that an intrusion into its sphere of interests is now a casus belli" Russia-Georgia: the multipolar world's first war
Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann. Publication date: 3/9/2008. https://www.defnat.com/e-RDN/vue-article_en.php?carticle=4606&cidrevue=712
[xvi] NATO secretary General Jens Stoltenber g declared that " if Putin wins, that is not only a big defeat for Ukrainians, but it will be a defeat and dangerous for all of us, because it will make the world more dangerous and it will make us more vulnerable for further Russian aggression" . https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_208037.htm
PhD in Geopoltics, Professor, Director/Founder of EUROCONTINENT, international organization based in Brussels
Blog: Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann's Blog