Russia begins annexation vote in occupied Ukrainian regions

Ukraine Break away regions referendum

Russia has begun the annexation vote in the regions of Ukraine it occupies.

On Friday, Russia initiated referendums in four occupied regions of Ukraine expected to be used to legitimize annexation, but Kyiv claimed the vote was mandatory, with residents facing penalty if they did not participate.

Votes on whether the regions should join Russia started after Ukraine earlier this month successfully counterattacked and retook huge portions of its lost territories. The seven-month war in Ukraine has caused tens of thousands of deaths, millions of displacements, and severe damage to the economy.

The Kremlin appears to be attempting to retake the upper hand in the grueling struggle as Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced this week a military draft to enlist 300,000 people to fight in Ukraine.

Additionally, by annexing the four regions, Moscow might portray an attempt to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, sending a signal to Kyiv and its allies in the West.

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In an apparent reference to nuclear weapons, Putin stated on Wednesday that Russia would “use all the means at our disposal” to defend itself. He added, “This is not a bluff.”

Moscow-installed officials in the four regions had been planning the referendums for months, but a rush to organize them followed Ukraine’s recent gains.

Voting is scheduled to take place in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, which together make up around 15% of Ukrainian territory, from Friday to Tuesday.

“Voting has started in the referendum on Zaporizhzhia region becoming a part of Russia as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation! We are coming home! Godspeed, friends!” Vladimir Rogov, a representative of the government in that part of southern Ukraine that receives support from Russia, remarked.

The West has generally denounced the referendums as being illegitimate and a precursor to unlawful annexation. There won’t be any neutral observers, as the majority of the pre-war population has already left.

Election results won’t have any legal significance, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which oversees election monitoring, because they don’t follow Ukrainian legislation or international norms and the locations are unsafe.

According to Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, in the Russian-controlled town of Bilovodsk, a company director informed staff members that voting was compulsory and that anybody who chose not to participate would be dismissed and have their identities handed to security forces.