In challenge to West, Russia unfurls plan to annex swathes of Ukraine

LONDON: Russia on Tuesday backed the separatist plans it supports Ukraine hold referendums that paved the way for the annexation of additional territories, a direct challenge to West that could escalate the conflict.
After nearly seven months of war, including a major battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine, Putin is weighing his next steps.
In what appeared to be orchestrated requests, Russian-backed officials on 15% of Ukraine’s territory – an area the size of Hungary or Portugal – lined up to demand the referendum. about joining Russia.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), which Putin recognized as independent shortly before the invasion, and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions have requested a vote in less than 24 hours.
Officials in Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson say the referendums will take place in just a few days – from Friday, September 23 to the end of Monday, September 27. Russia does not fully control any region. none of the four regions, with only about 60% of the Donetsk region in Russian hands.
When asked about the referendum, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “From the very beginning of the operation, we have said that the people of the respective territories should decide their fate and the entire The current situation affirms that they want to master their own destiny.”
If Moscow formally annexed a large portion of Ukraine’s territory, Putin would essentially force 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 Politik, said: “All that is said about the immediate referendums is a completely definitive ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the method West.
‘West fears referendums’
Dmitry Medvedev, who served as President of Russia from 2008 to 2012 and is currently Vice Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, supports the referendums, which he says will change the path of Russian history and allow The Kremlin has more options to defend what he has said. become Russian territory.
“Encroaching on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all your self-defense forces,” Medvedev said in a Telegram post. “This is why these referendums are so scary in Kyiv and the West.”
“It is equally important that after amending the constitution of our state, no future leader of Russia, no official can reverse these decisions.”
Russia’s nuclear doctrine permits the use of these weapons if weapons of mass destruction are used against it or if or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons. .
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, said he would support folding the parts of Ukraine that voted to join Russia.
Ukraine considers the threat to hold the referendum “naive blackmail” and a sign that Russia is scared.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to the President of Ukraine, said: “This is the feeling of fear of failure. The enemy is afraid and afraid in advance.” Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Ukraine will solve the Russian problem. 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 counter Russian forces.
Greater conflict?
Our President Joe Biden warned in March that a direct confrontation between the NATO military alliance and Russia would mean World War III. Leaders Biden and Nato have been careful to say that they do not want the Nato military to come into direct conflict with the Russian military.
However, Putin and senior Russian generals and officials have seen the conflict as a larger-scale rivalry with the West, which they say has sent Ukraine advanced weapons and helped guide Ukraine’s leadership. Ukrainian forces with intelligence and training to ultimately kill the Russian army.
On Friday, Mr Putin dismissed Ukraine’s blitzkrieg counterattack in recent weeks and viewed the conflict as an attempt to thwart what he said was a Western plot to contain and destroy Russia. .
Russia’s parliament on Tuesday passed a bill to toughen punishment for a range of crimes such as desertion, damage to military property and failure to coordinate if they are committed in situations of troop mobilization. fighting or fighting.
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 were in the Donbas – including Donetsk. and Luhansk – find a way out of Kyiv’s control.
After Russian forces took control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine under the Soviet Union, on February 27, 2014, a referendum on joining Russia was held. Held on March 16th.
Crimean leaders announced a 97% vote to secede from Ukraine. Russia officially added Crimea on March 21. Kyiv and the West argue that the referendum violates Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

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