‘Dummy referendums’: Occupied regions of Ukraine’s plan to vote on joining Russia sparks outrage

Russian-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions on Tuesday presented plans for referendums on joining Russia, a challenge to the West that could abruptly escalate the war and draw condemnation from Ukraine and of his 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 UN.

In a tweet, he added: “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will continue to liberate them whatever Russia has to say.”

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington “unequivocally” rejects any such referendum, and the European Union and Canada have condemned the plan.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc and its member states would not recognize the outcome of the referenda and would consider further action against Russia if the votes were held.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda have both used the word “parody” to describe the planned votes.
In a seemingly coordinated move, pro-Russian figures announced referendums for September 23-27 in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, representing about 15% of Ukraine’s territory, an area the size of Hungary.

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

The atmosphere remains tense after the recapture of the city of Kupyansk by Russian forces

Ukrainians continue to leave the town after it was recaptured from Russian forces, in Kupiansk, Kharkiv, Ukraine, September 20, 2022. Source: Getty / (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Moscow to order mobilization?

Some pro-Kremlin figures have presented the referendums as an ultimatum for the West to accept Russian territorial gains or face all-out war with a nuclear-armed enemy.
“Encroachment on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all self-defense forces,” Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and now a warmongering deputy chairman of the President’s Security Council, said on social media. Vladimir Poutine.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin TV channel RT, wrote: “Today a referendum, tomorrow recognition as a member of the Russian Federation, the day after tomorrow strikes on Russian territory become a full-fledged war between Ukraine and NATO and Russia, untying Russia’s hands in every way.”

The United States and NATO allies who have backed Ukraine with arms and other support have said such plebiscites would make no sense.

If the referendum plan “weren’t 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 likely to be dominated by the war in Ukraine.
A Lithuanian Nauseda spokesperson quoted him as saying, “These regions are and will be Ukraine, and Russia’s sham referendums are illegal. Lithuania will never recognize them.”
Reframing the fighting in occupied territory as an attack on Russia could give Moscow justification for mobilizing its 2 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.

Mr Sullivan said Washington was aware of reports that Mr Putin may be considering ordering a mobilization, which Mr Sullivan said would do nothing to undermine Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian aggression .

‘Loud and Clear’

Russia has said capturing all of Lugansk and Donetsk provinces has been its main objective since defeating its invading forces in March on the outskirts of Kyiv.
It now holds around 60% of Donetsk and had captured almost all of Luhansk by July after slow advances during months of heavy fighting. Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven out of neighboring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk front lines.
The referendums were announced a day after Ukraine said its troops had regained a foothold in Luhansk, the village of Bilohorivka, and were preparing to advance through the province.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said on Tuesday evening that its operations in Donetsk near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka had caused Russia “significant losses”.
But Russia bombed those towns and dozens more in northeastern and southern Ukraine, the general staff said. Reuters could not independently verify this information.
To the south, Russia controls most of Zaporizhzhia but not its regional capital. In Kherson, where the regional capital is the only major city Russia has so far captured intact since the invasion, Ukraine has launched a major counteroffensive.

Unverified footage on social media showed Ukrainian forces in Bilohorivka, located just 10km west of the town of Lysychansk, falling to the Russians after weeks of some of the heaviest fighting of the war in July .
“There will be fights for every inch,” Ukrainian governor of Luhansk Serhiy Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is preparing its defence. So we’re not just going to go in.”
Pro-Russian officials have said referendums could be held electronically. Russia held a referendum in Crimea eight years ago before declaring the former Ukrainian territory annexed.

In a move aimed at bolstering Russia’s military in Ukraine, Russia’s parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to toughen penalties for a host of crimes including desertion, damage to military property and insubordination, s’ they were committed during military mobilization or combat situations.