Russia moves toward annexing Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson regions

RIGA, Latvia – Russia has pushed ahead with plans to annex occupied Ukraine, as Moscow’s puppet government sets a date for a referendum on joining Russia – moves that could spark war dramatically escalated.

Officials in the self-declared “republic” of Luhansk and Donetsk, and in the occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine, have announced “referendums” to be held from Monday. Six to Tuesday. Such votes, which are illegal under Ukrainian and international law, have been derided by many Western officials as a sham and merely a harbinger of annexation.

After annexing territories, Moscow will likely declare Ukraine’s attacks on those areas an attack on Russia itself, analysts warn, this is an attack, analysts warn. potential cause for a general military mobilization or dangerous escalation, such as the use of nuclear weapons.

White House spokesman Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the United States would never recognize Russia’s claims to the annexed territory, calling the planned referendums a violation of Russia’s sovereignty. direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. “We categorically reject Russia’s actions,” he said.

In a move that could seriously escalate the war, Russia pushed ahead with plans on September 20 to annex the self-declared states of Luhansk and Donetsk. (Video: Reuters)

The head of the Russian-appointed occupation administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, said a referendum would be held on the same day in areas controlled by Russian forces, including Enerhodar, where Russian forces are located. Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.

Balitsky said that “there is no point in postponing the procedure.”

Moscow’s proxy leader in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, has called on Russia to help organize the referendum, highlighting the flimsy theory of local officials taking control. Denis Pushilin, the puppet leader in Donetsk, said police and members of his government’s “election committee” would knock on people’s doors and “invite” them to vote.

Russia has no solid military power over any region it could move to annex, and the holding of snap votes suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now aiming to achieve it. politically what he had not achieved on the battlefield.

But seizing territory belonging to Ukraine’s sovereignty due to a clear violation of international law, as well as when world leaders gather at the United Nations for the annual General Assembly, would be a brazen move. significant, even for Putin, who didn’t take global opinion very seriously when he made it. the largest land war in Europe since the Second World War.

Russian media have signaled that Putin is likely to give a national television address on Ukraine on Tuesday night, followed by a speech by the defense minister. However, Putin did not appear and Russian journalists said he would speak before the country on Wednesday.

The merger push shows how narrow Moscow’s options are, following recent military failures and growing criticism of the war around the world, including remarkable public rebuke on Putin by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Uzbekistan.

In recent days, a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive has forced Russia into a major retreat in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, as troops flee the cities and villages they have occupied since the early days of the country. war and give up large amounts of military equipment.

The gains from Ukraine also undermine Russia’s ability to hold the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that it spent months and considerable manpower to capture this summer.

In Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, Kyiv’s forces made slower but steady advances in a separate counterattack.

Attacks on weapons depots, command posts, and supply routes using the US-supplied long-range missile system, known as the HIMARS launcher, have strained Russian logistics, reducing the ability to attack Ukrainian soldiers across the front lines.

In Russia, hardliners angered by defeats on the battlefield have called for escalation, some even advocating the use of nuclear weapons to crush Ukrainian resistance.

Such a move would cross a scarlet line in international conflict. When President Biden was asked by a reporter This weekend, what will he say to Putin if he contemplates using nuclear weapons, he said, simply: “Don’t. Do not. Do not. It will change the landscape of war unlike anything since the Second World War.”

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Prominent Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, who is promoting a tougher approach to Ukraine, hinted Tuesday that the planned referendums are a sign sign of more dramatic action to come.

“Judging by what is happening and what is to come, this week marks the moment of our impending victory or the eve of nuclear war,” Simonyan wrote on Twitter. “I can’t see any third option.”

Russian officials and pundits on state television have asserted for months that the war it has started against Ukraine is actually part of a larger existential war against NATO.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the country’s Security Council, said the annexation of the regions would change Russia’s development for decades to come and the “geopolitical transformation of the world”. world will become irreversible”.

In a veiled threat of nuclear escalation, he warned of dire consequences if Ukraine continued to attack regions after Russia absorbed them. “An invasion of Russia’s territory is a crime, taking that action would allow us to use all the right to self-defence,” he said.

However, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet that “fake referendums” would not change anything.

“Russia was and still is an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukraine,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will continue to liberate them whatever Russia may say.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said staged votes would have no legitimacy: “This is a further escalation in Putin’s war. The international community must condemn this blatant violation of international law and increase support for Ukraine,” he said on Twitter.

Analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, of the political consultancy R.Politik, thinks that moving to an immediate “referendum” is a sign that Putin has chosen a dangerous new path.

Stanovaya said on Telegram that the fake votes were “a clear ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West: Ukraine withdraw or nuclear war”.

“To ensure ‘victory’, Putin is ready to hold immediate referendums to gain the right (in his mind) to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory,” she wrote. and added: “Putin does not want to win this war on the battlefield. Putin wants to force Kyiv to surrender without fighting.”

Moscow is facing a serious manpower problem in Ukraine, which has worsened when soldiers refuse contracts and surrender or desert. Even a massive recruiting effort, including join the army and sending volunteers to the front lines with little training, did not help Russia regain lost military momentum.

On Tuesday, the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, passed amendments adding tougher penalties for soldiers who desert or refuse to fight.

Those fired who do not hold their posts for more than a month will face a maximum sentence of 10 years, compared with the current maximum of five years. Soldiers who refuse to fight or deploy can be jailed for up to three years. Voluntary surrender is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The amendments will almost certainly be approved by the Federal Council, the upper house of parliament, on Wednesday and could be signed by Putin on the same day. War advocates have been demanding a tougher approach to “special military operations” in Ukraine, even as the Kremlin insists that all go to plan.

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The amendments have fueled speculation that Putin may choose to mobilize nationwide military, a move he has so far resisted, knowing it would be unpopular and risk alienating the Russian public. war protest.

Isabelle Khurshudyan in Kyiv, Ukraine; Mary Ilyushina and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia; and Loveday Morris and Kate Brady in Berlin contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

Latest: Grain shipments from Ukraine are accelerating Contract was hit by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations in July. Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has sent food prices soaring and raised fears of more hunger in the country. Middle East and Africa. At least 18 ships, including lots of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, set off.

The struggle: The conflict on the ground continued as Russia used its advantage of heavy artillery to defeat Ukrainian forces, who were sometimes able to respond. stiff resistance. In the south, the Ukrainians’ remaining hope was in the liberation of the occupied area by Russia Kherson regionand finally Crimea, occupied by Russia in 2014. Fear a disaster at the Zaporizhzhia . nuclear power plant remains as both sides accuse each other of shelling.

Weapons: Western arms supplies are helping Ukraine Russia’s slow advances. US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Missile System (HIMARS) allow Ukrainian forces attack further behind Russia’s front lines against Russian artillery. Russia used a armament against Ukraine, some of which have attracted the attention and concern of analysts.

Picture: Washington Post photographers were present from the very beginning of the war – here are some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways that people in America can help the people of Ukraine as what people around the world have donated.

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