Russia-backed separatists plan to hold referendums in occupied regions of eastern Ukraine, a move that has sparked a chorus of condemnation from Western leaders.
The vote will pave the way for Russia to officially annex the territories after nearly seven months of war with its neighbour, a former Soviet republic.
Who wants a referendum?
Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), which President Vladimir Putin recognized as independent states just before the invasion on February 24, had said that it wanted a referendum on Russia’s participation from September 23 to 27 – that is, from Friday to Tuesday of this week.
The Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, which are still not recognized by Russia as independent states, also said they would hold their own votes.
Russia does not fully control any of the four regions, with only about 60% of the Donetsk region in Russian hands.
How much territory could Ukraine lose?
Russia controls more than 90,000 square kilometers (34,750 square miles) of territory, or about 15% of Ukraine’s total area – roughly the size of Hungary or Portugal.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. With Crimea and territory in four other regions, Russia will gain an area equal in size. The US state of Pennsylvania [mention the state’s area?].
What is the significance?
If Russia goes ahead with referendums and covers four regions in Russia, then Ukraine – and potentially the West’s supporters – will, from Russia’s point of view, be against Russia itself.
That would increase the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance, a scenario that President Joe Biden says could lead to World War III, as NATO members are fighting the war. arms and intelligence supplies to Ukraine.
Thus, Russia’s hasty move to formally annex another large portion of Ukraine’s territory would be a major escalation just days after a possible defeat on Russia’s most important battlefield in the war in Ukraine. northeastern Ukraine.
Russia’s nuclear doctrine authorizes the use of these weapons if it is attacked with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from nuclear weapons. ordinary gas.
While escalating the view of the confrontation, Putin may also announce additional steps.
Russian stocks fell to a one-month low on Tuesday as Moscow raised concerns about martial law with a new law tightening punishments for military personnel.
Unless Ukraine agrees to stop fighting for its lost territory, Russia will have to deploy significant military force to defend the newly annexed areas, which are not yet fully under Russian control.
“Putin has bet on escalation,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political analysis firm R.Politik.
“All that is said about immediate referendums is an absolutely definitive ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West.”
What does Ukraine say?
Ukraine says the threat of the referendums is “a naive blackmail” and a sign that Russia is scared.
“The fear of failure looks like this. Andriy Yermak, chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “The Russians can do whatever they want. It won’t change anything.”
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 against Russian forces.
What happened in Crimea?
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was ousted The Maidan Revolution of Ukraine.
After Russian forces on February 27, 2014 take control of CrimeaSince the country has an ethnic Russian majority and was moved to Ukraine during Soviet times, a referendum on joining Russia was held on 16 March.
Crimean leaders announced a 97 percent vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Russia officially added Crimea on March 21, less than a month after the invasion.
Kyiv and the West argue that the referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law.