“Sham Referendums”: The plan of the occupied territories of Ukraine to vote on joining Russia was met with anger | SBS News

Russia-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions on Tuesday laid out plans for referendums on joining Russia, a challenge to the West that could escalate the war sharply and draw condemnation from Ukraine and its allies.
“The Russians can do whatever they want. It won’t change anything,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in response to reporters’ questions at the United Nations.

“Ukraine has every right to liberate its territory and will continue to liberate it no matter what Russia says,” he added in a tweet.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had rejected any such referendums “unequivocally”, and the European Union and Canada condemned the plan.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc and its member states would not recognize the result of the referendums and would consider taking further action against Russia if the vote took place.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda used the word “parody” to describe the planned vote.
In an ostensibly coordinated move, pro-Russian figures announced that referendums would be held from September 23 to 27 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces, which represent about 15 percent of Ukrainian territory, or an area the size of Hungary.

Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbass region that was partially occupied by Moscow in 2014, as independent countries. Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.

Ukrainians continue to leave the city after recapturing it from Russian forces, in Kobyansk, Kharkiv, Ukraine on September 20, 2022. source: GT / (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Moscow orders mobilization?

Some pro-Kremlin figures have portrayed the referendums as an ultimatum for the West to accept Russian territorial gains or face all-out war with a nuclear-armed enemy.
“The encroachment on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all the forces of self-defense,” Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and deputy head of the Security Council of President Vladimir Putin, said on social media.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin television station RT, wrote: “Today, the referendum, tomorrow’s recognition as part of the Russian Federation, and the day after the strikes on Russian soil, has become a full-fledged war between Ukraine, NATO and Russia, undoing Russia’s shackles in all respects.”

The United States and its NATO allies, who have been supporting Ukraine with weapons and other support, said such referendums would be meaningless.

“It is likely that the war in Ukraine will be dominated by the war, if the referendum plan were not so tragic, it would be funny,” Macron told reporters in New York, where leaders were arriving for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
“These regions are and will remain Ukraine, and fake referendums in Russia are illegal. Lithuania will never recognize them,” a spokesman for the Lithuanian Nauseda quoted him as saying.
Reframing the fighting in the occupied territories as an attack on Russia could give Moscow a justification for mobilizing its two million military reserves. Moscow has so far resisted such a move despite mounting losses in what it calls a limited “special military operation” rather than a war.

Sullivan said Washington was aware of reports that Putin might consider mobilizing, which Sullivan said would do nothing to undermine Ukraine’s ability to fend off Russian aggression.

‘Clear and loud’

Russia declared the capture of all Luhansk and Donetsk provinces to be its main objective since defeating the invasion forces in March on the outskirts of Kyiv.
It now controls about 60 percent of Donetsk and has captured almost all of Luhansk by July after a slow advance through months of heavy fighting. Those gains are now threatened after Russian forces were expelled from neighboring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of key supply lines to most of the front lines in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The two referendums were announced a day after Ukraine announced that its forces had regained a foothold in Luhansk, the village of Belhorivka, and were preparing to advance through the territory.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said, on Tuesday evening, that its operations in Donetsk near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka caused Russia “significant losses.”
But the Russian General Staff said Russia had bombed those towns and dozens of others in northeastern and southern Ukraine. Reuters was not able to independently verify those reports.
In the south, Russia controls most of Zaporizhia but not its regional capital. In Kherson, where the regional capital is the only major city that Russia has so far captured intact since the invasion, Ukraine launched a major counterattack.
Unverified footage on social media showed Ukrainian forces at Belhorivka, just 10 kilometers west of the city of Lysichansk which fell to the Russians weeks after some of the war’s fiercest battles in July.
“There will be a fight for every centimeter,” Ukraine’s Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is preparing to defend. So we will simply not enter.”
Pro-Russian officials said the referendums could be conducted electronically. Russia held a referendum in Crimea eight years ago before declaring the annexation of the former Ukrainian territory.

In a move aimed at strengthening the Russian military in Ukraine, the Russian parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to toughen penalties for a range of offenses such as desertion, damage to military property and insubordination, if committed during military mobilization or combat.

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