This week, two Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine declared that they will hold referendums on joining Russia. A Putin loyalist predicted that the results would permanently change the geopolitical landscape in Moscow’s favor.
The action, which further increases Moscow’s standoff with the West, comes after Russia suffered a battlefield reversal in northeast Ukraine and as Putin rethinks his next moves in a nearly seven-month-old conflict that has generated the most severe East-West divide since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
The planned referendums, according to the neighboring Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), which has Russian support, will take place from September 23 to 27.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the DPR, urged Putin in social media post “I ask you, as soon as possible, in the event of a positive decision in the referendum – which we have no doubt about – to consider the DPR becoming a part of Russia.”
Russian-installed officials in the southern Kherson area, where Moscow’s forces control over 95% of the territory, said earlier on Tuesday that they had also chosen to conduct a referendum. Authorities in the pro-Russian Zaporizhia region of Ukraine were anticipated to follow suit.
Such referendums would be unlawful shams, according to Ukraine and the US, and they have made it plain that they and many other nations would not recognize the results.
The Security Council’s deputy chairman and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, said before the results were made public that the results would be final and would allow Moscow, which has the greatest arsenal of nuclear weapons, free reign to defend what it would consider to be its legitimate territory.
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“Encroachment onto Russian territory is a crime which allows you to use all the forces of self–defence,” Medvedev said in a post on Telegram. “This is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and the West.”
He added that no future Russian leader would be able to constitutionally overturn their outcome.
The leader of Russia’s State Duma, the country’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, declared that his body would support the two regions joining Russia if a vote to do so were to be held.
Until now, Washington and the West have taken care to avoid arming Ukraine with weaponry that might be used to bombard Russian territory, and Medvedev’s interpretation of what de facto annexation would imply legally from Moscow’s viewpoint seemed to be a warning to the West in the future.
“They (the referendums) would completely change the vector of Russia’s development for decades. And not just of our country. The geopolitical transformation of the world would be irreversible once the new territories were incorporated into Russia,” he wrote.
Given that Ukrainian troops are attempting to reclaim Luhansk, and Russian and Russian-backed forces only control around 60% of the Donetsk area, it is unclear how the referendums would be conducted.
In the past, pro-Russian officials have suggested that the referendums may be conducted online.
Eight years had passed since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.