FACTBOX. On October 3, 2022, Russia’s State Duma has ratified the agreements on the admission of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions to Russia.
On September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the DPR and LPR and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions signed international treaties on their regions’ entry into Russia. On October 2, Russia’s Constitutional Court recognized the agreements as valid. The Constitutional Court noted that the DPR and LPR and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions are considered admitted to the Russian Federation starting from the date of the agreements were signed: September 30, 2022. Moreover, each of the treaties "is temporarily applied from the date of signing and enters into force as of the date of ratification." The names of the new constituent entities - two republics and two regions - will be included in Part 1 of Article 65 of the Russian Constitution.
Proclamation of Donetsk, Lugansk people's republics in 2014
After the government coup in Ukraine in 2014 the population of the southeastern regions, mostly Russian-speaking, refused to obey the new authorities. Mass protests began in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. People's militias were formed in both of them. Clashes between the Ukrainian army and nationalist groups, on the one hand, and the militias escalated into full-scale military operations involving heavy armored vehicles and aircraft.
On April 7, 2014, the republican People's Council declared the sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). On April 27, at a rally in Lugansk, the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) was proclaimed.
On May 11 of the same year, referendums were held in Donbass on the status of both republics: 89.7% voted for self-determination in the Donetsk Region and 96.2% in the Lugansk Region. On May 12, the state sovereignty of the people's republics was proclaimed. On May 14, the DPR adopted its Constitution. The DPR did so on May 18. Kiev, as well as the Western countries, did not recognize the results of the plebiscites.
Denis Pushilin became the head of the Donetsk People's Republic and Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the Lugansk People's Republic.
Situation in Donbass in 2014-2022
The armed conflict in Donbass lasted eight years, during which time 14,000 lost their lives and many became refugees and forced resettlers. Kiev introduced a complete economic blockade of Donbass.
Through the mediation of the OSCE, Russia, Germany and France, in September 2014 and February 2015 a plan for a peace settlement and ceasefire (Minsk agreements) was drawn up. A special status of Donbass was one of the basic clauses of the peace plan. The process of resolving the conflict was stalled due to Kiev's refusal to comply with the political part of the Minsk agreements. The negotiations were artificially delayed by the Ukrainian side under President Petro Poroshenko (2014-2019) and then after Vladimir Zelensky took over in 2019. In the meantime, Kiev kept accusing Moscow of interfering in the conflict on the side of the proclaimed republics.
The Russian authorities have repeatedly stated that the Donbass should be granted a special status within Ukraine, provided for by the Minsk agreements. Russia regularly supplied humanitarian aid to the DPR and LPR. Starting from 2019 the process of obtaining Russian citizenship has been simplified for the residents of both republics.
Aggravation in late 2021 - early 2022
In the autumn of 2021, tensions in Donbass surged up. At Kiev’s request the Western countries began to beef up Ukraine’s military muscle. Their support included lethal weapons. The DPR and LPR officials regularly reported shellings along the entire line of engagement.
Amid the aggravation, Russia’s State Duma on February 15, 2022, adopted a draft appeal, prepared by the Communist faction, to President Vladimir Putin for recognizing the independence of the DPR and LPR "as independent and sovereign states in their own right."
On February 17, 2022 the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics reported the heaviest bombardments by the Ukrainian military in several months. The evacuation of civilian population from the DPR and LPR to Russia began. The Russian authorities guaranteed the refugees temporary shelter and assistance. Both people’s republics declared mobilization.
Also, the authorities of the DPR and LPR turned to Russia with a request for recognition.
Recognition of Donbass republics, special military operation
On February 21, 2022, Russia recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics. On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a special military operation in Ukraine in response to a request for help from Donbass.
Liberation of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions
During the special military operation, about 73% of the Zaporozhye Region with the cities of Berdyansk, Melitopol, Vasilyevka and Energodar, where the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is located, were taken over by Russian troops. A military-civilian administration was established on this territory. Its leader is Yevgeny Balitsky, a former member of the 7th and 8th Verkhovna Radas. The temporary center of the liberated territory is Melitopol, the largest city in the military-civilian administration-controlled area of the Zaporozhye Region. The capital of the region - the city of Zaporozhye, where almost half of the region's population lives - remains under the control of Ukraine.
By the beginning of March 2022, the Kherson Region had also come under the control of Russian troops. A military-civilian administration was formed in this region, too. On April 26 Vladimir Saldo, a former mayor of Kherson (2002-2012), became its chief.
On May 4, 2022, the citizens of the DPR and LPR who have a legal status in Russia (temporary residence permit, residence permit, etc.) were granted the right to fast-tracked acquisition of Russian citizenship. On May 25, a decree was signed on a simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship by the residents of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions. On July 11, the right to get Russian citizenship in accordance with simple rules was granted to all citizens of Ukraine.
Referendums on joining Russia
On September 19, 2022, the civic chambers of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic asked the heads of the DPR and LPR, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, to immediately hold referendums on the issue of joining Russia. On September 20, the public movement We are together with Russia urged the head of the Zaporozhye military-civilian administration, Yevgeny Balitsky, to hold a referendum on the region's entry into Russia. On the same day, the Public Council of the Kherson Region sent a similar appeal to the head of the military-civilian administration Vladimir Saldo.
On September 20, 2022, the leaders of the DPR and LPR, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, signed laws on holding referendums in their respective republics on September 23-27 with the aim to find out the people’s attitude to the idea of applying for admission to the Russian Federation. On the same day, the heads of the military-civilian administrations of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, Yevgeny Balitsky and Vladimir Saldo, signed decrees on holding referendums on September 23-27.
On September 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin in an address to the nation said that Russia would support the decisions made by the residents of Donbass, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, made during the plebiscites. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the United States’ Newsweek magazine in an interview that the DPR, the LPR, and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have the right to exercise the right to self-determination in accordance with the UN Charter. Moscow will respect their choice, he stressed.
The regime in Kiev, as well as the Western countries, have declared that they will not recognize the results of the referendums.
The referendums in the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics, and on the liberated territories of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions were held on September 23-27.
For security reasons, in-person voting at the polling stations was held only on the last day, September 27, while on all other days election commissions’ staffers walked about their precincts with portable transparent ballot boxes from house to house or set up temporary outdoor voting outlets in the neighborhoods. More than 130 foreign observers from Venezuela, Italy, Germany, Latavia and other countries, as well as Russia kept an eye on the voting process.
Ballot papers in the DPR and LPR were printed in Russian, which has the status of the state language in both republics. The question of the republics’ accession to Russia as constituent territories of the federation was put to the vote. In the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions the ballot papers were printed in Russian and Ukrainian. The residents were asked to answer the question whether they agreed to the secession of their regions from Ukraine, the formation of independent states and their entry into Russia as constituent entities of the federation.
The overwhelming majority of those who voted were in favor of joining Russia. In the DPR, the idea of joining Russia was supported by 99.23% of the participants in the referendum, which saw a turnout of 97.51%, and in the LPR, by 98.42% with a turnout of 94.15%. In Zaporozhye, 93.11% of those who cast their ballots voted in favor (85.4% turnout), and in the Kherson Region, 87.05% (76.86% turnout).
Appeal to Russia, recognition of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions’ independence
On September 28, 2022, the leaders of the DPR and LPR Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik and the heads of the military-civilian administrations of the Zaporozhe and Kherson regions, Yevgeny Balitsky and Vladimir Saldo, addressed Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with a proposal for admitting their regions as new territories of Russia.
On the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to emphasize that the referendums had been held in full compliance with the norms and principles of international law on the self-determination of peoples and in conformity with the UN Charter, the 1966 international covenants on human rights, and the 1975 CSCE Helsinki Final Act , as well as the opinion of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo dated July 22, 2010, which "confirmed the fact that unilateral declaration of independence by a part of the state does not violate any norm of international law." The results of the referendums, as Russian Foreign Ministry said, show that the residents of these regions do not want to get back to their former lives and have made a conscious and free choice in Russia’s favor. The Foreign Ministry said that international observers who had monitored the referendums recognized their results as legitimate.
On September 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees recognizing the independence of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.
Accession to Russia
On September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions signed international treaties on these regions’ accession to Russia.
On the same day, Putin sent requests to the Constitutional Court asking it to probe into whether the four signed agreements were in compliance with legal norms. On October 2, Russia’s Constitutional Court recognized the agreements as valid.
The DPR and LPR and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions are considered to have been admitted to the Russian Federation starting from the date of signing - September 30, 2022. Each of the treaties "is temporarily applied starting from the date of signing and enters into force on the date of ratification."
Within Russia the DPR and LPR will retain the status of republics using Russian as the official language and their names. The Kherson and Zaporozhye regions will become part of Russia as regions. The names of the new regions will be included in Part 1 of Article 65 of the Russian Constitution.
The boundaries of the republics and regions will be identical to their borders that "existed on the day of their emergence and accession to Russia." The borders with the territory of another state will be the state border of Russia. The DPR and LPR shall be parts Russia within the 2014 borders established in their constitutions.
According to the treaties, the residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions are recognized as Russian citizens from the day these regions were admitted to Russia - September 30.
They have been given a one-month deadline to relinquish their Russian citizenship.
The Russian ruble shall be the standard monetary unit in the DPR and LPR and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions starting from January 1, 2023. The Ukrainian hryvnia will remain in circulation till the end of 2022. Also, starting from January 1, 2023, Russia’s budget legislation will be applied in the new territories.
The acting heads of the new territories of Russia will be appointed by the Russian president within 10 days following the republics and regions’ accession to Russia. The governments of the DPR and LPR will continue to exercise their powers until the newly appointed leaders form new executive authorities.
Parliamentary elections in the DPR and LPR and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions will be held on the single voting day in September 2023. Before that the function of the legislative bodies of power in the DPR and LPR will be performed by the current people's councils (parliaments) of the republics.
According to international treaties, a transitional period will be established until January 1, 2026 for the new regions to be integrated into Russia’s economic, financial, credit and legal systems and the system of government power. All issues related to the fulfillment of military duties by the residents of the new constituent entities of Russia shall be resolved by this date.
Territorial bodies of federal executive power shall be created in the new republics and regions by June 1, 2023. During the transitional period, prosecutors’ offices shall be created and the functioning of Russia’s judicial system ensured.