Separatists in Ukraine announced referendums to lock in Putin's control. Observers say any vote would be a sham.
- Pro-Russian officials in occupied Ukraine have announced referendums on joining Russia.
- The tactic, used after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, has been widely denounced as a sham.
Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's occupied eastern Donbas region announced referendums on joining Russia, a tactic that Ukraine and the West have called a sham.
Separatist leaders in the separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk said that votes would take place between September 23-28, according to state-controlled Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Russian proxies had occupied both regions for years and fought against Ukraine in the hope of capturing more territory.
The Russian military administration in occupied Kherson, to the south, will also hold a vote on those dates, RIA Novosti reported. And Southern Ukraine's occupied Zaporizhzhia region will vote on annexation between September 23 and 27, according to multiple reports.
Russia has long quietly fueled separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, which declared their respective regions the "People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk" in 2014. The quasi-republics are not recognized by the vast majority of countries, but President Vladimir Putin did so officially on February 21, part of his rationale for the wider invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the announcements on Tuesday, saying: "Sham 'referendums' will not change anything."
—Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) September 20, 2022
"Ruscist reconstructionists in the occupied territories never tire of repeating the Nazi referendum on the Anschluss of Austria. They are expecting 1938 results. Instead they will get Hitler's 1945 outcome," Ukraine's defense ministry said in response.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked about the announcements, said that "the peoples of the respective territories should decide their fate," according to Al-Jazeera.
Although the votes are unlikely to gain legal recognition internationally, they would offer Russia a sham pretext to claim the territories are "Russian."
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned of the tactic in July, saying: "Russia-installed leaders will hold sham referendums to manufacture the fiction that the people in those places want to join Russia."
An Atlantic Council analysis predicted those conducted during this conflict would be "obviously rigged and illegitimate ballots."
Tuesday's announcements on the anticipated votes come a few days after Ukraine reclaimed large swathes of territory from Russia in an ongoing and punishing counteroffensive.
The votes are likely calculated to re-enact the playbook of Putin's 2014 annexation of Crimea. Following military occupation, pro-Russian officials said 95% of people approved of joining Russia, in a referendum the US and the EU considered illegal, as the BBC reported at the time.
Despite that, the international response to Putin's actions in Crimea was muted, with the West all but conceding that the region would be Russian-controlled.
Similar attempts to stage referendums in occupied Ukraine have so far failed throughout the nearly seven-month-long war. Votes in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv were all announced, but eventually postponed.
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