Officials in four Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine have said they will hold referendums on becoming part of Russia from September 23 to 27, which could happen. set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war.
Ukraine has denied that Russia saw it as a stunt to try to regain the initiative after crushing losses on the battlefield.
“Fake ‘referendums’ won’t change anything,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
“Russia was and still is an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukraine. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will continue to liberate them whatever Russia may say. “
Voting will take place in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics of the Donbas region, where Russian President Vladimir Putin is recognized as independent Shortly before sending troops to Ukraine in February, according to officials and news agencies.
A vote will also be held in the southern region of Kherson Moscow’s army captured in the early days of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, and in the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhia region.
Their integration into Russia would represent a significant escalation of the conflict in Ukraine as Moscow can say it is defending its territory from Ukrainian forces.
“The Council of Peoples has ruled… setting the date for the referendum from September 23 to September 27,” separatist official Denis Miroshnichenko was quoted as saying by a Luhansk news portal.
Soon after, the Donetsk News Agency officially announced that a referendum would be held on its territory on the same day.
In a separate statement, the leader of the Donetsk rebel group Denis Pushilin asked Putin to consider the region becoming part of Russia “as soon as possible”.
“The long-suffering Donbas people deserve to be a part of the Great Country, which they have always considered their Homeland,” Pushilin said on social media.
“I am sure that joining the Kherson region to the Russian Federation will secure our territory and restore historical justice,” the head of that Moscow-installed region, Vladimir Saldo, said in a statement. Tuesday announced the vote in September.
He added that it was “a necessary decision in the face of continued terrorist acts by the armed forces of Ukraine and NATO member states that supply weapons to kill civilians on our soil.”
Russian forces control about 95% of Ukraine’s Kherson territory in the south of the country.
The head of the Russian-installed administration in Zaporizhia, Yevgeny Balitsky, said on Telegram: “Today I signed an order to hold a referendum on territorial allegiance of the region” from 23 to 27. September.
US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told Al Jazeera that referendums on annexation “will not be recognized by anyone in the international community”.
In #UNGA, @USAmbUN tell @AJEnglish that the merger referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk “will not be recognized by anyone in the international community,” and said until #Russia withdraw from #Ukraine“It’s going to be very difficult to have meaningful diplomacy with them.” pic.twitter.com/pPDMgaYXR9
– Price Amanda (@amandaruthprice) September 20, 2022
The Kremlin has repeatedly said the matter is up to Russian-installed local officials and citizens of the regions.
Saldo’s remarks echoed statements by Kremlin ally and former President Dmitry Medvedev earlier on Tuesday in which he called on the Kremlin to let the separatists join Russia.
Immediately after Saldo’s announcement of plans to hold a vote in Kherson, the head of the Russian parliament said he would support regions to join Russia.
“Today, we need to support the republics with which we have signed mutual assistance agreements,” said Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin, referring to the agreements signed between Moscow and the People’s Republic of Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Paving the way for the Kremlin to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February.
Large parts of the Donbas industrial park have been controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, after nationwide protests ousted Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president.
Russia at that time annexation of Crimea from Ukraine with a vote criticized by Kyiv and the West, imposed sanctions in response.