On September 30, Putin signed “agreements on accession” of the newly occupied territories to Russia. The Kremlin leader said that Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions are now “Russian territories” and their status is not being discussed.
By announcing the “accession” of Ukrainian regions to Russia, the Russian authorities were counting on the “Crimean option” of the development of events, but faced a number of problems that threaten the statehood of Russia itself.
Predictably, the annexation was not recognized by any country in the world, and representatives of international organizations stated that this procedure was organized under military occupation and could not have any legal consequences. The United Nations General Assembly considers the so-called incorporation of the temporarily occupied territories of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions into the Russian Federation incompatible with the principles of the UN Charter and violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
Even a month after the annexation, the Kremlin cannot provide an official map of the “new borders of the Russian Federation.” The Russian Center for Geodesy and Cartography responds to media inquiries by saying that “the borders have not been finalized.” And this is not surprising – after declaring both the occupied and uncontrolled areas to be the territory of Russia, Russian state borders have become a conditional category whose legitimacy is not recognized by any civilized country. After all, instead of an imaginary border, the front line is now a dynamically changing one, and not in favor of Russia. In fact, the real state and customs border between Russia and Ukraine de facto remains in the same place.
The issue of creating a new federal district remains hanging in the balance: the media have reported either about the unification of new territories into one Crimean federal district or about joining the Southern Federal District, which includes Crimea. Moreover, the occupiers did not even grant any interim status to the partially occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and two districts of Mykolaiv region. The interests of various clans of Putin’s elite are obviously behind this, so we should not expect a quick solution here.
Predictable administrative chaos has emerged in the annexed territories – quasi-structures of various composition and different levels of control exist here simultaneously – military authorities, “civil-military administrations”, state apparatuses of “people’s republics”…
Formally, they are led by “local” cadres from among the field commanders of the “militia,” local politicians from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, as well as Ukrainian security forces who have sided with the separatists. Over the past 8 years, the “locals” have formed mafia-type cells that continue to want to remain as independent as possible from their Russian supervisors. In order to split and take control of the local elite, the Kremlin is trying to saturate it with Russian personnel. Thus, in the “DPR”, a veteran of the “Russian Spring”, D. Pushilin, was appointed head of the “republic”, and the government is headed by a Russian official, V. Khotsenko. The situation in the “LPR” is similar: the head of the “republic” is a former SBU officer, L. Pasichnyk, and the government is headed by S. Kozlov, a field commander in 2014-2015 (his first deputy prime minister is former vice-governor of the Kurgan region, V. Kuznetsov).
In the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, there is a significant shortage of local personnel, and corrupt structures of “local” authorities are only being formed under the leadership of former MPs from the Party of Regions V. Saldo (Kherson) and Y. Balytskyi (Zaporizhzhia). Therefore, the de facto power of both annexed regions is concentrated in the hands of Russian heads of “governments”: in Kherson region – former vice-governor of Kaliningrad region S. Eliseev, in Zaporizhzhia – former head of the government of Vologda region A. Koltsov.
The business qualities of the newly appointed Russian “gauleiters” are in question, as being sent to the occupied territories becomes a kind of punishment for their guilt before Putin. Regular assassination attempts on occupation officials do not add to the number of people willing to hold these positions.
For example, former Russian Emergencies Ministry official Colonel O. Katerynychev was dismissed after being accused of involvement in the death of the head of the Ministry, Y. Zinichev, and resurfaced as the first deputy head of the occupation administration of Kherson region, and on September 30, 2022, he was killed by shelling from the Ukrainian armed forces. Another example is the “commandant” of Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, O. Molokov, former head of the housing and communal services department in Alushta, who was sentenced in 2019 to 4 years for bribery.
The process of administrative assimilation of the local population through active passportization is difficult. Local authorities are forcing residents to urgently obtain Russian documents, threatening them with deprivation of social assistance and the inability to find a job or do business. However, the occupation authorities are dissatisfied with the pace of passport issuance, especially in the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions occupied this year. In the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, a significant part of the population is openly hostile, and even pro-Russian residents are in no hurry to obtain Russian citizenship, as the region could be liberated by the Ukrainian armed forces at any time. By the way, since the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a counteroffensive, the active issuance of passports in Donbas has been suspended, according to official data, “for technical reasons.”
And most importantly, passports issued in the occupied territories are not recognized in Ukraine or Europe.
The occupation administration’s attempts to brainwash residents and convince them that there is no alternative to Russia are proving to be futile. Local journalists massively refused to cooperate with the occupiers, despite offers of high salaries and threats. Most of the media workers left for the free territory. Peaceful resistance and sabotage of the actions of the occupiers and collaborators by an active part of society is increasing.
The realities and conditions in which residents of the occupied territories live every day. There are no courts in the temporarily occupied territory, and the laws are not in force. Those who have been released from illegal detention facilities report numerous instances of torture, abuse, humiliation, and violence, including sexual violence. Official Telegram channels and Russian media almost daily report on the detention of “Ukrainian terrorists” and the exposure of “agent networks” and “terrorist groups.” Terrorists are deputies, heads of municipal institutions and enterprises, entrepreneurs, volunteers, and ordinary citizens. There is still no electricity, gas, water and sewerage in the areas where the active phase of hostilities took place.
The “martial law” declared on the territory of the four regions occupied by Russia only exacerbates the absurdity of the situation. After all, this is only a pretext for the total looting of the occupied territories after the so-called evacuation of the population.
Any attempts by Russia to change the legal status of the territories temporarily controlled by it in Ukraine, including Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, as well as Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, through occupation, are doomed to failure.