The areas in Ukraine occupied by Moscow want to have a vote on accession to nuclear power Russia in controversial proceedings this week. The Moscow-recognized "People's Republics" of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, as well as the Kherson region in the south and military rulers in the Zaporizhia region scheduled "referendums" from September 23-27. This was announced by the regions on Tuesday.
These are sham referendums because they are being held without Ukraine's consent, under martial law and not according to democratic principles. Free work by international independent observers is also not possible.
Despite sanctions and international resistance, Russia signaled its willingness to include the territories that belong to Ukraine under international law in its national territory. They would then be under the protection of the nuclear power, which has been threatening to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the event of NATO interference since the start of the war against Ukraine on February 24.
The sham referendums, which are not recognized by either Ukraine or the international community, are seen as a reaction to the current Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east of the country. Similarly, in 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. At the time, the West reacted with sanctions to slow down Russia. However, the Russian leadership has always emphasized that it will not allow the punitive measures taken by the EU and the USA to divert it from its goals in Ukraine.
Ukraine reacted calmly to the "referendums" announced by Russia and the Russian occupation authorities in the occupied territories in the east and south of the country. "Neither the pseudo referendums nor the hybrid mobilization will change anything," Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. Ukraine will continue to liberate its territory no matter what is said in Russia.
The head of the presidential office in Kyiv, Andriy Yermak, spoke of "naive blackmail" and "fear-mongering". "This is what the fear of crushing (Russian troops) looks like. The enemy is afraid and manipulates in a primitive way," wrote the 50-year-old on the Telegram news channel.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense compared the events with the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany in 1938. "They expect the results of 1938. Instead they will get Hitler's result of 1945," the military wrote on Twitter. The Second World War, started by the dictator Adolf Hitler, ended with the capitulation of Germany.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had previously called for accession referendums in the Moscow-held areas of Ukraine to be irrevocably annexed to Russia. "After its implementation and the inclusion of the new territories in the structure of Russia, the geopolitical transformation in the world will take on an irreversible character," he wrote in his blog on the Telegram news channel.
Russian political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya said that Putin decided to hold accession referendums after the failure of his original plans to quickly seize the territories of Ukraine. Once the regions have been included, he has the option of defending the territories under threat of using nuclear weapons. He has now significantly increased his commitment in the war.
President Putin also called for a significant increase in arms production. "Armament industry organizations must ensure that the armed forces are supplied with the necessary weapons, technology and combatants as quickly as possible," he demanded at a meeting with the heads of Russian armaments companies. At the same time, it is necessary to completely dispense with imports in weapons production.
In view of the recent Ukrainian advance, the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk had called on Moscow to become much more involved. Russia justified its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 with the "liberation" of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, among other things. First, the Russian military was able to conquer large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Most recently, however, the Kremlin had to accept a serious defeat, the Russian troops withdrew almost completely from the Kharkiv region after Ukrainian attacks. State propaganda then warned of a possible devastating defeat in the war. On the other hand, the Russian military leadership has repeatedly emphasized that everything is going according to plan and that all goals have been achieved.
The Russian parliament, meanwhile, made urgent legislative changes that could indicate possible preparations for the imposition of martial law in the country. The Duma determined on Tuesday that times of "mobilization" and "state of war" are particularly prone to crime. Among other things, the criminal law was tightened in the second and last reading, according to which the prison sentences for voluntarily becoming prisoners of war and for looting are significantly increased.
Independent observers close to the Kremlin saw this as a possible preparation by the Kremlin for the declaration of a state of war and a mobilization. In view of the war in Ukraine, Putin had said that Moscow hadn't even really started there. The State Duma also passed a law that would allow foreigners who enlist in the military to become Russian citizens more quickly.
After the defeat in the Kharkiv region, the Kremlin recently declared that there was no mobilization "at the moment". However, speculation has been going on for months that Putin could use this hitherto unprecedented means to solve personnel problems at the front. It was only on Friday that he emphasized again that fighting is currently only taking place on a contractual basis - i.e. with volunteers.
Prominent Russian politicians, but also the state media, had called for significantly more personnel to be mobilized for a faster advance. In the separatist regions, too, the commanders had called for more action by the Russian leadership in view of the Ukrainian advance and the risk of new defeats from heavy weapons supplied by NATO countries.