Referendums of annexation by Russia began this Friday in regions of Ukraine controlled entirely or in part by Moscow, polls described as “simulacra” by kyiv and the West and which mark an escalation of the conflict.
These votes, which began at 05:00 GMT, must be held until September 27 in the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (east), and in areas under Russian occupation in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia (south), in full invasion of Ukraine by Moscow.
These elections, announced at the beginning of the week and organized in haste, were strongly denounced by the Ukrainian government and its Western supporters, who accuse Moscow of taking control of whole swaths of territory, like the Crimean peninsula. (south) in 2014.
If the result of these referendums is beyond doubt, they announce in any case an escalation of the conflict, Moscow going so far as to threaten nuclear strikes to defend what it considers to be “its” territory.
“The holding of this referendum is a historic step (…) We are going home!” Denis Pushilin, leader of the pro-Russian separatist region of Donetsk, said in a video posted this Friday morning on Telegram.
While the fighting is still raging, the electoral body of the separatists in Donetsk indicated that “for security reasons” the ballot would be organized mainly door-to-door for four days, the polling stations opening “only on last day”, i.e. September 27.
Thus, 450 and 461 polling stations will be opened respectively in the region of Donetsk and Lugansk, to the east. Zaporizhia will have 394 and the Kherson region in the south 198.
Several polling stations have also opened in Russia to allow the voting of “refugees” who fled the fighting, according to Russian news agencies.
These votes, on the model of the one that formalized the annexation of the Crimean peninsula (south) by Russia in 2014, have been the subject of preparations for several months, but the timetable seems to have accelerated with the counter- Ukrainian offensive which forced the Russian army to retreat in the northeast of the country.
Residents of the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have already declared their “independence”, must decide whether or not they want to be part of Russia.
In the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, partially occupied by Russian forces, the question is asked: “Do you want to secede from Ukraine, create independent states and become part of Russia?”
The speaker of the lower house of the Russian Parliament (Duma), Vyacheslav Volodin, on Friday urged his “compatriots” – the pro-Russians of Ukraine – to “choose to integrate Russia”. “We will support you,” he said.
Even if the annexation of these four areas is not recognized by the international community, it will mark a turning point in the offensive that Russia has been leading in Ukraine since February 24.
Tuesday’s hasty announcement of these “referendums” comes as Moscow, which is struggling to regain control in Ukraine after suffering a series of setbacks, has taken the decision to throw more forces into the battle.
On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin thus decreed a partial mobilization of Russians of fighting age, which will concern at least 300,000 people.
Accusing Westerners of wanting to “destroy” Russia, he also threatened to use “all means”, including nuclear, statements which were strongly condemned by the United States and the European Union.
“Fuel on the Fire”
Even China, close to Moscow, seemed to distance itself after the announcement of referendums, calling for respect for the territorial integrity of States.
Russia also found itself in the dock at the UN Security Council, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the charge Thursday by denouncing the recent escalation.
“That President Putin chose this week, when most of the world’s leaders gather at the UN, to add fuel to the fire he started demonstrates his utter disregard for the UN Charter. he said, refusing to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
“We can’t let President Putin get away with it,” he said at the meeting convened by the French presidency.
Sergei Lavrov, present in the Council room where he also made a speech, had not sat at the same table as the other ministers, being replaced by a deputy.
In Russia, the announcement of the mobilization caused an influx of Russians wishing to leave the country, without any figures being available.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Russians to “protest” against the mobilization on Thursday evening, saying that Moscow was preparing to raise “up to a million men”.