A so-called “referendum” on Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories occupied by Moscow began this Friday (23/09), despite opposition from Kiev and the international community. It was “a travesty” for Kiev and the West.
The parliaments of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine, which were recognized by the Kremlin on February 21, announced the referendum on Tuesday, joined by the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions in the south. Together, the four regions correspond more or less to the size of the territories of Portugal or Hungary. The referendum will take place until next Tuesday (27.09.) and has the support of Russia.
The rebels want to speed up the vote amid successes in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which has resulted in the recapture of territory in the south and east of the country. The disputed vote in the occupied territories is being considered more seriously by Russian President Vladimir Putin after repeated setbacks for Russian troops ahead of the seven-month war.
Russia usually likes to use the results of the referendum to justify annexation of territories occupied by separatists loyal to the Kremlin and uses the argument of “people’s right to self-determination”.
The Kremlin justified the invasion of the neighboring country by reaffirming the need to “liberate” the two provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, the majority of the population of the Donbass region who speak Russian.
“From the beginning of the operation, we have said that the people of the regions should decide for themselves about their destiny, and the current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their own destiny,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Separatist leader Denis Bushilin spoke of a historic day in the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.
“This referendum is important, it’s a step towards a new reality,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.
In the Zaporizhia region, voting is taking place only in areas controlled by Russian troops. The regional capital is controlled by Ukraine. The Lugansk region announced that citizens who had fled to Russia would also be able to vote.
Hours after the polls were announced, Putin announced a partial military mobilization that would call for 300,000 reservists — sparking protests with more than 1,400 prisoners and overcrowded flights trying to leave the country.
No international recognition
Neither Ukraine nor the international community will recognize the referendum because they consider the referendums invalid because they were held without Ukraine’s consent, under martial law and not in accordance with democratic principles. Also, free work by independent international visitors is not possible.
In the new referendum, Russia follows the same model adopted in 2014 when the Crimean peninsula was annexed. The “referendum” would have gained 97% support for secession from Ukraine, but the referendum was not recognized internationally.
The European Union (EU) and the United States have repeatedly condemned the vote, calling it illegal and fraudulent.
German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the “referendum” was a clear violation of international law.
“It is very, very clear that this staged referendum is not acceptable under international law or within the understanding of the international community,” he said.
Putin would essentially challenge the United States and its European allies to risk direct military conflict with Russia, the world’s largest nuclear power, if Moscow formally annexes the separatist-controlled areas.
le/rk (Lusa, DPA, AFP, ots)
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