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Ukraine

Opinion: Dominos falling to 'New Russia'

The controversial referendums in eastern Ukraine are devoid of all credibility and lack any kind of democratic legitimacy, but they could spark a chain reaction, says DW's Bernd Johann.

Deutsche Welle REGIONEN Osteuropa Ukrainisch Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann heads DW's Ukrainian desk

If it were up to the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, Europe would have more new borders following the annexation of Crimea. The areas around Donetsk and Luhansk would become two new "independent republics" - unambiguously orientated towards Russia, since they will be dependent on Kremlin support, both politically and economically.

The partitioning of Ukraine is now to be completed with the help of "referendums," in defiance of all international criticism. The vote contravenes the Ukrainian constitution, its organizers were and still are militant separatists who have taken over administrative buildings and police stations. These separatists were not elected by anyone, but took power by force - so for that reason alone these "referendums" are devoid of all credibility or democratic legitimacy.

Simulated democracy

Independent observers were unable to oversee these ballots, or the counting of votes. Since there are no official electoral registers, assessing these referendums would not have been possible in any case. No one knows exactly how many people voted. Ballots may have been forged. Individuals could have cast multiple votes. Ukrainian-speakers may well have stayed home out of fear. For those reasons the international community will not recognize the result of this referendum.

Not that this will stop the separatists, who don't expect international acceptance. Their "referendums" were a populist maneuver, an imitation of democracy designed to invoke the so-called "will of the people." And they want to set off a chain reaction, because they want other southern and eastern Ukrainian regions to follow suit.

'New Russia' as far as the EU

The strategy echoes the "domino theory" of the Cold War, whereby ideology and propaganda would lead neighboring states to fall like dominos under Moscow's influence. Such a scenario is now threatening to take over certain parts of Ukraine. The separatists want other "republics" to be formed according to the models of Donetsk and Luhansk. These dominos could one day be combined under the name "New Russia" ("Novorossiya"). There is already talk of this in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already started using the phrase "New Russia" - meaning an area reaching from eastern Ukraine through Crimea and Odessa up to the Republic of Moldova and Romania - and so right to the borders of the European Union. Crimea has already been annexed. Now, Donetsk and Luhansk could follow - even if Moscow currently denies any such intention. But in reality these areas are dominos for the Kremlin on the path to "New Russia."

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