According to the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), several points in the document could be signs that the referendum could be manipulated: the Russian occupiers hoped for a turnout of 70 percent and calculated in advance an approval rate of 70 percent as well – Calculations based on the original population of the entire Donetsk Oblast.
However, only about a third of the original population still live in this area. ISW analysts therefore estimated that this annexation strategy was already in place before the war of aggression began. The document also describes instructions for conducting the election: Among other things, the fingers of voters are to be marked with long-lasting ink, allegedly to prevent multiple votes being cast.
This harbors the risk that those who do not vote are easily identifiable. According to the ISW, fingerprints and other biometric evidence could also be necessary for the election process. In this way, the occupying power could collect targeted information in order to pursue opposition groups.
Despite the published documents, the ISW predicts that the Kremlin will postpone the referendum date to mid-September. Given the current state of Russian troops and Ukrainian resistance, conquering the entire Donetsk Oblast before spring 2023 is considered unrealistic.