Russia yesterday paved the way for the formal annexation of large parts of Ukraine in a major escalation of the Kremlin’s war with Kyiv.
Ro-Moscow leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions, which make up 15 percent of the country’s territory, announced plans for referendums later this week that would lead to annexation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to address the Russian nation last night, but his broadcast has been postponed to today.
The Kremlin had previously warned that it would defend any annexed territory by “all means” and raised the prospect that it could use nuclear weapons in response to Western-backed Ukrainian efforts to retake the country.
There was a chorus of condemnation from world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York for calling the referendums a “sham.”
Liz Truss, Britain’s Prime Minister, said Russia would have to pay reparations from its “vast oil and gas reserves” to Ukraine when the conflict was over.
Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, said the referendums were not covered by international law, while Emmanuel Macron, the French President, called them “a tragic parody”.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, added: “The United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to supposedly annexed parts of Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s parliament rushed to pass a bill providing for tougher penalties for desertion, refusing to fight and disobeying orders during times of martial law.
That was a clear signal that the Kremlin was considering a general mobilization of its forces. This would allow Moscow to significantly expand conscription and put production on a war base.
The developments followed a highly successful Ukrainian counter-offensive to retake land.
The referendum plans were announced in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions. While Russian forces control Luhansk and most of Kherson, Ukraine controls about 40 percent of Donetsk and Zaporizhia.
The votes will take place between Friday and next Tuesday and will almost certainly be in favor of joining Russia.
Polls released on social media showed support for joining Russia between 80 and 91 percent. Russia held a similar referendum in Crimea eight years ago before declaring its annexation.
Ukraine dismissed the referendums as Moscow’s attempt to regain the initiative after its crushing losses on the battlefield. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “The occupiers are clearly in a panic.”
Kremlin figures suggested the expected annexations would raise the prospect of NATO being drawn into the conflict if it didn’t accept Russian territorial gains.
Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, said: “Trespassing on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all your forces of self-defense.
“That is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and in the West. They would completely change the vector of Russia’s development for decades. And not only of our country. The geopolitical transformation of the world would be irreversible once the new territories were annexed to Russia.”
Tatiana Stanovaya, Russia analyst at R.Politik, said: “[This] is an absolutely clear ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West – either Ukraine withdraws or there will be nuclear war.”
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin TV channel RT, wrote: “Today referendum, tomorrow recognition as part of the Russian Federation, the day after tomorrow strikes on Russian territory will turn into a full-fledged war between Ukraine and Russia. Nato and Russia unleash Russia’s hands in every respect.”
The referendums were announced a day after Ukraine said its troops had regained a foothold in Luhansk, the village of Bilohorivka and are preparing to advance across the province.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/fears-grow-that-war-will-escalate-as-vladimir-putin-plans-referendums-in-occupied-territories-42005595.html Fear grows that the war will escalate as Vladimir Putin plans referendums in the occupied territories