- Four Russian-occupied territories announce referendum plans
- Vote on whether to join Russia
- Ukraine and the West see voting as fake and illegal
- France’s Macron says plans to ‘mimic’ democracy
Kyiv, Sept 20 (Reuters) – The leaders of Russia’s four occupied territories in Ukraine have drawn up a referendum plan to join Russia, a move Ukraine and its allies dismissed on Monday as an attempt by Moscow Loads of gimmicks to take back the initiative after the battlefield.
“The Russians can do whatever they want. That doesn’t change anything,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kouleba said in response to a question from reporters during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
He added in a tweet: “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and Ukraine will continue to liberate them no matter what Russia says.”
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US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan said Washington “unequivocally” rejects any such referendum. French President Emmanuel Macron and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda both used the word “mock” to describe the planned vote.
In an apparently coordinated move, pro-Russian figures announced plans to hold a referendum in September. 23-27 In the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye, about 15% of the territory of Ukraine or about the size of Hungary.
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas region that Moscow partially occupied in 2014, as independent states. Ukraine and the West believe that all parts of Ukraine controlled by Russian forces are illegally occupied.
Denis Pushilin, the self-proclaimed leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), wrote in a social media post to Putin: “If the referendum has a positive decision, I will ask you as soon as possible – we There is no doubt about it – consider incorporating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into Russia.”
Moscow ordered mobilization?
Some pro-Kremlin figures see the referendum as an ultimatum to the West to accept Russia’s territorial gains or face all-out war with a nuclear-armed foe.
Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and now a hawkish vice-chairman of Putin’s security council, said on social media: “Violating Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all means of self-defense.”
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin RT TV station, wrote: “The referendum today, the recognition of part of the Russian Federation tomorrow, the attack on Russian territory the day after tomorrow becomes Ukraine and NATO and Russia, loose in every way. Open the hands of Russia.”
But the U.S. and NATO allies, which have been supporting Ukraine with arms and other means, say such a referendum is pointless.
Macron told reporters in New York that it would be “interesting” if the referendum plan was “not so tragic”, where leaders are arriving for a United Nations General Assembly meeting that could be dominated by the Ukraine war.read more
“Russia started a war, invaded the region, bombed people, made people flee, and now they say there will be a referendum in this region,” Macron said.
“We will never recognize this territory as part of Ukraine. We reject Russian actions unequivocally,” Sullivan told reporters.
He was quoted as saying by a spokesman for Nauseda in Lithuania: “What Russia is doing in Donetsk, Luhansk and other occupied territories in Ukraine is a parody of democracy and an attempt to hide the true face of totalitarian regimes. These regions are and will be Ukraine and Russia where fake referendums are illegal. Lithuania will never recognize them.”
Redefining fighting in occupied territory as an attack on Russia could also give Moscow reason to mobilize its 2 million-strong military reserve. Despite mounting losses in what it calls limited “special military operations” rather than war, Moscow has so far resisted the move.
Sullivan said Washington was aware of reports Putin might be considering ordering a mobilization, which Sullivan said would not diminish Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian aggression.
‘loud and clear’
Since the defeat of its invading forces on the outskirts of Kyiv in March, Russia has declared the occupation of all Luhansk and Donetsk provinces as its main objective.
It now owns about 60 percent of Donetsk and, after months of heavy fighting, had slowly advanced nearly all of Luhansk by July. But those gains are now under threat after Russian troops were expelled this month from neighboring Kharkiv province, losing control of most of the main supply lines on the Donetsk and Luhansk fronts.
The referendum was announced a day after Ukraine said its troops had retaken their stronghold in Luhansk, the village of Bilokhorivka, and were ready to advance across the province.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry mocked Moscow, claiming it had abandoned the front lines in Kharkiv and “regrouped” to fight elsewhere. “Why did the chicken cross the street?” Ukraine’s foreign ministry tweeted on Monday. “Because it’s regrouping.”
In the south, Russia controls most of Zaporozhye, but not its regional capital. In Kherson, the region’s capital and the only major city Russia has so far fully occupied since the invasion, Ukraine launched a major counteroffensive.
Unconfirmed footage on social media shows Ukrainian troops stationed in Bilohorivka, an area just 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of the city of Lysychansk, during some of the heaviest fighting in the war in July It fell into the hands of the Russians a few weeks later.
“Every centimeter will be fought,” Sergei Gede, the governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is preparing their defenses. So we’re not going to simply march.”
Pro-Russian officials said the referendum could be conducted electronically. Eight years ago, Russia held a referendum in Crimea before announcing its annexation.
To support Russia’s military in Ukraine, Russia’s parliament on Tuesday also approved a bill that would increase penalties for a range of crimes, such as desertion, damage to military property and disobedience, if committed in situations of military mobilization or fighting.read more
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Reporting in the Reuters Bureau; Writing by Andrew Osborne and Alex Richardson; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff
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