Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed Governor of Zaporizhzhia, signed a decree earlier today announcing that a referendum will be held for the oblast to join Russia, further signaling the Kremlin’s intentions on annexing areas of Russian-held Ukraine.
While attending the “We are with Russia” forum in Russian-controlled Melitopol, Balitsky stated that “I am signing the order for the central election committee to start the preparations for holding a referendum on the reunification of the Zaporizhzhia region with the Russian Federation.” A specific timeline for the referendum was not specified however.
In response to the announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that “Our country’s position remains what it always has been. We will give up nothing of what is ours,” further warning that “If the occupiers proceed along the path of pseudo-referendums they will close for themselves any chance of talks with Ukraine and the free world, which the Russian side will clearly need at some point.”
For months now, Ukrainian and western intelligence have reported Russia’s intentions on holding referendums in both Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Oblasts to pave the way for long term Russian control. There have been several indicators of “Russification” in these regions already, such as attempts to implement the Russian Ruble, fast track Russian citizenship for residents in these regions, and the implementation of Russian-installed officials. Back in May, Secretary of the Russian General Council, Andrey Turchak, announced during a trip to the city of Kherson that Russian forces plan to stay in southern Ukraine indefinitely. He stated “Russia is here forever. There should be no doubt about this. There will be no return to the past. We will live together, develop this rich region, rich in historical heritage, rich in the people who live here.”
Long term control of these regions has been a key aspect of Russia’s tactical objectives for months now. In April, Russian General Rustam Minnekayev stated “one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to Crimea, as well as affecting vital objects of the Ukrainian economy, Black Sea ports through which agricultural and metallurgical products are supplied to [other] countries,” according to Russian media.
Likewise, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has previously stated Russia’s intentions for the Zaporizhzhia NNP, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, to supply electricity to Russia’s power grid if Ukraine is not willing to pay for power from it. During a trip to the region, Khusnullin stated that “If the energy system of Ukraine is ready to receive and pay, then (the plant) will work for Ukraine. If not, then (the plant) will work for Russia,” adding “We have a lot of experience of working with nuclear power plants, we have companies in Russia that have this experience.”