Four occupied areas of Ukraine under Russian control have announced plans for urgent referendums to join Russia, paving the way for Russian annexation.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stalled in recent months as Ukraine recaptured swaths of territory in the country’s northeast propelled by weapons sent in from the West.
Today, Russian-backed officials from four regions of Ukraine controlled by Russian forces say they want to hold votes on joining Russia this week.
For months, Russian-installed authorities have attempted to organize self-declared referendums that have been made more difficult by Ukraine’s counter-offensives.
While most of Luhansk has been in Russian hands since July, the Ukrainian ruler of Luhansk announced on Monday that the army had taken over the village of Bilohorivka.
Donetsk and Zaporizhia are still under Russian control
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, after a referendum that drew international condemnation and was never accepted by the UN, the West or Ukraine.
There is speculation that Russia may announce a mass mobilization, to bolster its forces in Ukraine. The Russian parliament has approved tougher penalties for crimes such as desertion, damage to military property and insubordination during mobilizations or combat operations.
Deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said Tuesday morning that holding votes in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – also known as Donbass – would correct “historical justice” and be irreversible: “After amendments to the constitution of our state, no future leader of Russia, no official, can reverse these decisions.”
Annexing more Ukrainian territory would allow the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin to pretend that Russia itself was under NATO attack and then use more serious measures such as chemical weapons or even nuclear weapons to defend “Russian territory”
The Ukrainian government reacted to the planned referendum, calling it a sham.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday that “fake ‘referendums’ won’t change anything”.
Ukrainian Defense Ministry adviser Oleksiy Kopytko suggested the voting plan was a “sign of hysteria” in Moscow. President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday evening that “the occupiers are clearly panicked.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the votes were a “sham”, while Frenchman Emmanuel Macron condemned the idea as “cynical” and a “travesty” which obviously would not be recognized by the international community. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said they had no legitimacy and were “another escalation in Putin’s war”.
Any attempt to further annex sovereign Ukrainian territory can only anger the Ukrainian government and destroy any hope for negotiations.