The war in Ukraine has turned tides recently, with Ukraine taking back major territory in the Kharkiv region from Russian forces. And, with Russia seeming to run out of wartime supplies like weapons, hopes were rising that the seven-month war could be moving toward an end.
But it looks like Russia has a new strategy – annexing parts of Ukraine. Russian-backed officials across 15% of Ukrainian territory have requested referendums to join Russia within the same 24 hours. So, this seems like a planned campaign, as well as a direct challenge to the West. The separatist regions of Donetsk (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR), already recognized by Russia as independent from Ukraine, are included, as are Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
When will these referendums take place? Well, in just a few days, from September 23-27. There are concerns that Russia will stage sham votes in these elections. Ukraine has denounced the elections as illegal, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be recognized by most of the international community. The move could potentially give Putin cause to use nuclear weapons to defend the areas once they are considered Russian territory.
“It is very, very clear these sham referenda cannot be accepted and are not covered by international law,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters in New York. He called the referendums “part of an intent of imperialist aggression," adding, “Russia must withdraw its troops.”
“This is what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid, and obfuscates primitively," said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“We’re absolutely certain of the results of the referendum and determined to carry it out as soon as possible,” Denis Pushilin, Russian-backed head of the Donetsk region, said on Telegram.
“From the very start of the operation … we said that the peoples of the respective territories should decide their fate, and the whole current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their fate,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
French President Macron told reporters in New York that if the referendum plan “wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.”