Russia Asks SCO & BRICS Countries To Verify Donbass Referendums
Pivotal moment for SCO security credibility as Moscow throws down the gauntlet in requesting support
Russia is due to hold referendums in four disputed regions in the Donbass area, seized during the on-going Ukraine conflict in response to what Moscow has said is genocidal activities against ethnic Russians living there. In some cases, fighting has been ongoing since 2014.
These areas are to the east and south of what is considered by Kiev and the West to be Ukraine, referendums being held locally are expected to show that most residents wish to join with the Russian Federation. Ukraine and the West say that any referendums are illegal and will not be recognized. To assist with countering that, Russia has asked countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS to provide verification that the referendums are being held correctly. This would go some way to combatting if not entirely deflecting Western non-acceptance. The votes are due to be held next week and to be completed by September 27.
It remains to be seen what will happen as it directly pits the members of the SCO and BRICS against the Western views of Ukraine and would make a firm statement in Russia’s favour.
There is a lot at stake. Should, as expected, the Donbass regions vote to join with Russia, Moscow would then recognize them as legitimate parts of the Russian Federation. Any future attacks on them by Ukraine would then be considered an act of war, with additional consequences for regional security due to Russia’s membership of The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) This also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These are countries are all at varying levels of involvement with the SCO. According to the CSTO charter, an attack on one is considered an attack on all.
Moscow will be hoping that a referendum will settle the Ukraine conflict – however this depends upon persuading both Ukraine and the West that this is a workable solution and the fighting ends with Ukraine ceding these territories and Crimea permanently to Russia.
It remains to be seen though how the CSTO countries or other members of SCO will react to Russia’s proposal. The same can be said for the BRICS nations, with the question open as to whether any of them will be prepared to act as observers to the Donbass referendums. Not doing so would be to be seen as sitting on the fence and probably prolonging the conflict. Aligning with Russia could well incur sanctions from Europe and the United States, although a solution to stop the fighting may result. It is a tough call and especially for countries such as India and to some extent China, who are seen as keeping the Ukraine conflict at arms-length. Lending official support to Russian referendums reduces that distance. Russian officials will have gauged the likelihood of success at the recent SCO Heads of State conference last week.
It is going to be a tough call to make. Yet without it, the fighting will undoubtedly continue and could well get worse. The decision will test the resolve of the SCO as a regional security bloc for the first time in dealing with a significant regional military dispute. How it reacts is a challenge Russia has thrown down and could shape the credibility of the SCO for decades to come.