Four occupied regions in Ukraine are set to start voting Friday in Kremlin-engineered referendums on whether to become part of Russia, setting the stage for Moscow to annex the areas in a sharp escalation of the nearly seven-month war. Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected the votes as illegitimate and neither free nor fair, saying they will have no binding force.
at the referendums and their potential implications:
THE REFERENDUMS HAPPENING?
Kremlin has used this tactic before. In 2014, it held a hastily called
referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region that also was denounced by the West as
illegal and illegitimate. Moscow used the vote as a justification to annex the
Black Sea peninsula in a move that was not recognized by most of the world.
Tuesday, authorities in the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions that make up
Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas abruptly announced
that referendums on joining Russia would be held starting Friday. Moscow-backed
officials in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south also called
moves followed months of conflicting signals from Moscow and separatist
officials about the referendums that reflected the shifts on the battlefield.
the summer, when the Kremlin hoped for a quick capture of all of the Donbas
region, local officials talked about organizing the votes in September.
troops and local separatist forces have taken control of virtually all of the
Luhansk region, but only about 60% of the Donetsk region. The slow pace of
Russia’s offensive in the east and the Ukrainian push to reclaim areas in the
Kherson region made officials in Moscow talk about delaying the votes until
Kremlin’s plans changed again after a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive this
month forced Russian troops to retreat from broad swaths of the northeastern
Kharkiv region and raised the prospect of more gains by Kyiv’s forces.
say that by moving quickly to absorb the captured territories into Russia, the
Kremlin hopes to force Ukraine to halt its counteroffensive and accept the
current areas of occupation or face devastating retaliation.
HAPPENING IN THE REGIONS WHERE THE VOTE WILL OCCUR?
vote in Crimea was held under the close watch of Russian troops shortly after
they had overtaken the peninsula, where most residents were pro-Moscow.
who have controlled large chunks of the Donbas since 2014 have long pushed for
joining Russia and have shown little tolerance for dissent. When the rebellion
erupted there, the separatists quickly organized referendums in which a
majority voted to join Russia, but the Kremlin ignored the outcome.
regions declared their independence from Ukraine weeks after Crimea’s
annexation, triggering eight years of fighting that President Vladimir Putin
used as a pretext to launch an invasion in February to protect their residents.
southern regions, which were occupied by Russian troops in the opening days of
the invasion, anti-Russian sentiments run strong. Hundreds of pro-Kyiv
activists have been arrested, with many alleging they were tortured. Others
were forcibly deported, and tens of thousands fled.
Russian forces swept into the Kherson region and part of the Zaporizhzhia
region, Moscow-appointed authorities there have cut off Ukrainian TV
broadcasts, replacing them with Russian programming. They have handed out
Russian passports to residents, introduced the ruble and even issued Russian
license plates to pave the way for their incorporation into Russia.
administrations have come under frequent attacks by members of Ukrainian
resistance movement, which has killed local officials, bombed polling stations
and other government buildings, and helped the Ukrainian military target key
BEING SAID ABOUT THE LEGITIMACY OF THE VOTE?
voting process will take place in the absence of independent monitors and offer
ample room for rigging the outcome.
referendums were announced earlier this week, the West immediately questioned
their legitimacy. U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
referred to them as shams, and French President Emmanuel Macron said they would
have “no legal consequences.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also called them “noise” to distract the public.
RUSSIA’S MILITARY MOBILIZATION RELATED?
after the referendums were announced, Putin ordered a partial mobilization of
reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine, and he also declared he was ready
to use nuclear weapons to fend off any attacks on Russian territory.
Defense Ministry said the mobilization — Russia’s first since World War II — is
intended to call up about 300,000 reservists with previous military experience.
Observers noted, however, that Putin’s decree is broad enough to allow the
military to swell the numbers if needed. Some reports suggest the Kremlin’s
goal is amassing 1 million men, in a secret part of the decree.
Kremlin long has shunned taking such a deeply unpopular move, wary of fomentin
discontent and eroding Putin’s support base.
latest Ukrainian counteroffensive exposed Russia’s inability to control the
1,000-kilometer (over 600-mile) front line with its current limited force of
volunteers. Military experts say it will take months to make the newly
called-up reservists ready for combat.
PUTIN’S NUCLEAR THREAT RELATED?
struggles for ways to avoid new humiliating defeats, he signaled his readiness
Wednesday to use nuclear weapons to protect the country’s territory — a blunt
warning to Ukraine to stop pressing its offensive into the regions now set to
become part of Russia.
saw Putin’s threat as an effective ultimatum to Ukraine and its Western backers
to freeze the conflict or face a potential escalation all the way to a nuclear
Russian military doctrine envisages using atomic weapons in response to a
nuclear attack or aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the
very existence of the state,” Putin’s statement further lowered the threshold
for their use.
Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, amplified
the president’s threat Thursday, saying that after absorbing the four Ukrainian
regions, Moscow could use “any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear
weapons” to defend them.
mention of strategic nuclear forces, which include intercontinental ballistic
missiles and long-range bombers, sent a warning that Russia could target not
only Ukraine but also the U.S. and its allies with nuclear weapons in case of
dismissed the nuclear threats as bluster and vowed to free all occupied
AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine