Last updated: 6 hours ago
Four Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine have announced plans to hold a so-called emergency referendum on whether to join Russia, which would pave the way for Russia to annex them.
The Russian offensive has slowed down in recent months, while Ukraine has regained territory in the north-east.
Now, some Russian-backed officials in the southeast say they want to start a referendum this week on whether to join Russia.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 following a referendum that drew international condemnation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to address the nation local time on Tuesday evening, but was later postponed.
Wednesday morning local time, Putin delivered a nationally televised speech, saying that Russia has begun to enter a state of partial mobilization today. The Russian Defense Minister then issued the call for 300,000 reservists.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday that “a fake ‘referendum’ will not change anything.”
The international community has never recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but it has long been clear that Russia has always intended to stamp out occupied territories in the same way, ie local governments without real power.
Annexing more territory in Ukraine would allow the Kremlin to claim that Russian territory is threatened by NATO power. Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 this year.
There is speculation that Russia could announce a general campaign to strengthen its armed forces in Ukraine after the Russian parliament passed tougher sentences for crimes such as avoiding military service, destroying military property and disobeying orders during mobilization or combat operations.
Wednesday’s speech means speculation has become reality.
Putin said Russia’s actions were not lame.
“The territorial integrity, independence and freedom of our homeland will be protected, and I repeat, we will use all means.”
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, said earlier on Tuesday that voting in the eastern region of Donetsk and Luhansk — also known as Donbass — would “reform it”. Historical justice” and irreversible: “After the revision of the constitution of our country, no future leader of Russia, no official will be able to reverse these decisions.”
Soon after, the Russian-backed local authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk said they would hold referendums on September 23-27. Both were granted independence by Putin three days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine from the east, south and north.
Russian officials in the southern Kherson region said they would also hold a vote, and the Russian-occupied part of Zaporozhye issued a similar statement. Russian state media said people would be able to vote in person or remotely.
For months, Russian-appointed officials have been trying to hold a referendum on autonomy. There is no prospect of free and fair voting, and the ongoing fighting makes it impractical to fully annex areas not under their control. Ukraine’s counter-offense also made things more difficult.
While much of Luhansk has been under Russian control since July, on Monday Ukrainian leaders in Luhansk announced that Ukrainian forces had recaptured the village of Bilogivka.
Much of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control, although Russia has seized a narrow strip of land along the Sea of Azov.
While Russian forces quickly captured Kherson at the start of the war, Ukrainian forces have recaptured parts of the territory and Russian-backed officials have faced ongoing attacks. An earlier local attempt to vote was postponed.
Much of Zaporozhye Oblast is still under Ukrainian control, including the regional capital of the same name. Although the 2014 referendum in Crimea is widely considered illegal and unrecognized, and was boycotted by a large number of local residents, the Russian military still controls the peninsula.
The Ukrainian army is not far from the city of Donetsk. On Monday the mayor, who has Russian support, accused Ukrainian forces of bombing the city, killing at least 13 people.
Any further attempt to annex Ukrainian sovereign territory is sure to anger the leadership in Kyiv and dash any hopes of a negotiated settlement to the dispute.
Oleksiy Kopytko, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, said the vote plans were “a sign of hysteria” in Moscow. “The occupiers are clearly in panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday night.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the vote was a “scam”, while French President Emmanuel Macron dismissed the plan as “extreme” and “ridiculous” and clearly would not receive international commitment. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the referendums had no legitimacy and were “a further development in Putin’s war”.
Respected Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya sees the latest operation as Russia’s “unequivocal ultimatum” for Ukraine and the West. If they do not respond appropriately, Russia will fully mobilize its armed forces to go to war, he said. In Putin’s view, annexation would give him the power to use any weapon in protected areas that Moscow considers Russian territory.
In some parts of Russia, there have been growing voices calling for the full mobilization of the armed forces. President Vladimir Putin still described the attack as a “special military operation”.
In a sign that the Kremlin is preparing to support the referendum, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said from the start of the campaign that Russia wanted residents to decide: “The whole situation now clearly shows that they want to make their their own destiny. the master.”