Indian observer says Donbass voted freely to join Russia

The two self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas region, as well as the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, voted in controversial referendums to be annexed by Russia. Goran_tek-en/Creative Commons, CC BY

“In the western media, they tell us that people are forced at gunpoint. We are here today and we can see for ourselves that the people, whole families with smiles on their faces, are coming to exercise their inalienable right to vote for joining Russia. People are happy, hope shines in their eyes for a peaceful, long-awaited future as part of Russia. And we, for our part, understand that after this referendum, the world will become brand new, because now a new history is being created in Donbas,” says Purnima Anand, President of the BRICS International Forum.

However, the Government of India had not sent any authorised participant in the referendum as either “representative” or “observer”. “There is no organisation under the BRICS as BRICS International Forum (BRICS-IF). All organisations under BRICS are inter-governmental organisations and BRICS-IF is not listed under BRICS initiatives,” says an Indian government official.

Purnima Anand however says that the BRICS – International Forum is a civil society initiative that was launched after the arrival of the Narendra Modi government in 2014 and is following the 2015 Ufa BRICS declaration that called for the involvement of civil society initiatives under the BRICS. She acknowledged that her organisation is yet to be registered as part of BRICS and said, “We would like to register under BRICS but there is no secretariat of BRICS where we can apply for that process. I have been working internationally in Asia as well as Africa for a long time representing the civil society,” says Anand. She says that India should not object to her presence in the referendum as Russia is a strategic partner and a time-tested friend of India. “Representatives from 90 countries – from Europe, Africa, Asia – were present in the referendum and as observers, we saw the process of polling was transparent and the territories have voted in large numbers to join Russia,” says Anand who moved to Moscow from Donetsk after the polling ended in Donbas. Anand says that she worked as a consultant for the World Bank previously.

Today, all four of the occupied regions are active war zones that many residents have fled. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, over 11 million Ukrainians have left the country since February 2022.

There are also up to 7 million Ukrainians who have been uprooted from their homes but still live in Ukraine, making them internally displaced. More than 60% of the internally displaced Ukrainians are from the eastern regions.

As a result, the Russian referendum votes were conducted without accounting for the opinion of half – or even the majority – of the population in these territories.

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