In defiance of the West, Russia unveils plan to annex vast swathes of Ukraine

Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev attends a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, on Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

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  • Russian separatists plan referendums in Ukraine
  • Votes will allow Russia to annex 15% of Ukraine
  • The West will then face a possible battle with Russia
  • Ukraine says Russia is afraid
  • Russian parliament passes law on mobilization crimes

LONDON (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday lent its support to plans by the separatists it backs in Ukraine to hold referendums that would pave the way for the annexation of vast swathes of additional territory in a direct challenge to the West that could lead to a sharp escalation of the conflict.

After nearly seven months of war, including a crushing battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine, Putin is contemplating his next steps.

In what appeared to be determined requests, Russian-backed officials lined up across 15% of Ukrainian territory — an area the size of Hungary or Portugal — to request referendums on whether to join Russia. Read more

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Donetsk regions (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR), which Putin recognized as independent just before the invasion, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions demanded their votes over the course of less than 24 hours.

Officials in Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson said that the referendums will take place in just days – from Friday 23 September to Monday 27 September. Russia does not fully control any of the four regions, with only about 60% of the Donetsk region in Russian hands. .

In response to a question about the referendums, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “From the beginning of the process … we have said that the peoples of the regions in question should decide their fate, and the whole current situation confirms that they want to be the masters of their destiny.”

If Moscow formally annexes a significant additional part of Ukraine, Putin will essentially dare the United States and its European allies to risk a direct military confrontation with Russia, the world’s largest nuclear power.

Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political analysis firm R.

“Referrals to Western Concerns”

Dmitry Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, backed referendums that he said would change the course of Russian history and give the Kremlin more options to defend what it said it would. become Russian territory.

“The encroachment on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all the forces of self-defense,” Medvedev said in a post on Telegram. This is the reason for the fear of these referendums in Kyiv and the West.”

“It is equally important that after amendments to the constitution of our state, no future leader of Russia, and no official will be able to reverse these decisions.”

Russian nuclear doctrine permits the use of such weapons if weapons of mass destruction are used against them or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, said he would support the folding of parts of Ukraine that voted to join Russia.

Ukraine said the threat of referendums was “naive blackmail” and a sign that Russia was afraid.

“This is what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid, primitively confused,” said Andrei Yermak, chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Ukraine will solve the Russian issue. The threat can only be eliminated by force.”

Ukraine says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is expelled from its territory. Kyiv says it will never accept Russian control of its territory and has called on the West to provide more and better weapons to fight Russian forces.

bigger struggle?

US President Joe Biden warned in March that a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia would mean World War Three. Biden and NATO leaders have been careful to say that they do not want NATO forces in direct conflict with Russian forces.

However, Putin and top Russian generals and officials have described the conflict as a broader competition with the West, which they say has sent Ukraine advanced weapons and helps guide Ukrainian forces with intelligence and training that ultimately kills Russian forces.

Putin on Friday shrugged off a lightning Ukrainian counterattack in recent weeks, describing the conflict as an attempt to prevent what he called a Western plot to divide and destroy Russia. Read more

Russia’s parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to toughen penalties for a range of offenses such as desertion, damage to military property and insubordination if committed during military mobilization or combat. Read more

The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was ousted in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass – consisting of Donetsk and Luhansk – sought to break away from Kyiv’s control.

After Russian forces took control of Crimea, which is predominantly ethnic Russian and was transferred to Ukraine in Soviet times, on February 27, 2014, a referendum on joining Russia was held on March 16.

Crimean leaders announced a 97 per cent vote to secede from Ukraine. Russia officially added Crimea on March 21. Kyiv and the West said the referendum violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

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Reporting by Reuters. Editing by Andrew Heavens, Raisa Kasulowsky, Angus McSwan and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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