In challenge to the West, Russia unfolds its plan to annex parts of Ukraine

Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev attends a military parade on Victory Day, marking the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, on Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/ File Photo

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  • Russian separatists plan referendums in Ukraine
  • Votes would allow Russia to annex 15% of Ukraine
  • West would then be faced with a possible battle with Russia
  • Ukraine says Russia is afraid
  • Russian parliament passes law on mobilization crimes

LONDON, Sept. 20 (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday backed plans by separatists it backs in Ukraine to hold referendums paving the way for the annexation of parts of additional territory, a direct challenge to the West that would ignite the conflict can escalate.

After nearly seven months of war, including a critical defeat on the battlefield in northeast Ukraine, Putin ponders his next steps in a conflict that has led to the biggest confrontation with the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

In what appeared to be choreographed requests, Russian-backed officials across 15% of Ukrainian territory β€” an area roughly the size of Hungary or Portugal β€” lined up to request referendums on Russia joining. read more

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The self-proclaimed Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR), which were recognized as independent just before Putin’s invasion, and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions have called for votes in less than 24 hours.

Luhansk and Donetsk officials said the referendums would take place in just days, on September 23-27.

Asked about the referenda, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “From the very beginning of the operation… we have said that the peoples of the respective areas should determine their fate, and the whole current situation confirms that they want to control their destiny.”

If Moscow formally annexed an additional large portion of Ukraine, Putin would essentially challenge the United States and its European allies to risk a direct military confrontation with Russia, the world’s largest nuclear power.

β€œAll this talk of immediate referenda is an absolutely unequivocal ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik.

‘WEST FEARS REFERENDUMS’

Dmitry Medvedev, who served as Russian president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, backed the referendums, which he believes would change the path of Russian history and give the Kremlin more options to defend what he said. . become Russian territory.

“Entering Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all self-defense forces,” Medvedev said in a Telegram message. “This is why these referendums are so feared in Kiev and the West.”

“It is equally important that after the amendment of the constitution of our state, no future leader of Russia, no official will be able to reverse these decisions.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, said he would support the accession of parts of Ukraine that voted to join Russia.

Ukraine said the threat of referendums was “naive blackmail” and a sign that Russia was getting scared.

“This is what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid and darkens primitively,” said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Ukraine will resolve the Russian issue. The threat can only be eliminated by force.”

Ukraine says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is driven from its territory. Kiev says it will never accept Russian control of its territory and has called on the West to provide more and better weapons to fight the Russian forces.

GREATER CONFLICT?

US President Joe Biden warned in March that a direct confrontation between NATO’s military alliance and Russia would mean World War III. Biden and NATO leaders have said cautiously that they do not want NATO troops to come into direct conflict with Russian forces.

However, Putin and senior Russian generals and officials have already framed the conflict as a broader contest with the West that they say has sent Ukraine advanced weapons and aided Ukrainian troops with intelligence and training that ultimately kill Russian troops.

Putin Friday brushed off the lightning-fast Ukrainian counter-offensive of recent weeks, framing the conflict as an attempt to prevent what he said was a Western plot to split and destroy Russia. read more

The Russian parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to tighten penalties for a wide range of crimes, such as desertion, damage to military property and insubordination, if committed during military mobilization or combat situations. read more

The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was ousted during the Maidan revolution in Ukraine and Russia annexed Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas – which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk – tried to escape. control of Kyiv.

Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, the largest land invasion in Europe since World War II. Tens of thousands of people have died since the invasion.

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Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Raissa Kasolowsky, Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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