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Several Kremlin-backed officials in the occupied territories of eastern and southern Ukraine have announced they will hold a referendum on formally joining Russia this week, a move that threatens to redefine the parameters of the conflict. .
The referendum could pave the way for Russian annexation of the regions, allowing Moscow to frame ongoing Ukrainian retaliation there as an attack on Russia, giving Moscow an excuse to step up its military response.
The latest developments follow a significant change in Russia’s position after a sudden and successful Ukrainian offensive through most of occupied Kharkiv this month, which has enthused Ukraine’s Western supporters and recurred in Moscow.
As a coordinated declaration, Russian-appointed leaders in the territories occupied by Kherson and Zaporizhzhya and the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic all said they planned to hold “votes” beginning on 23 September. .
The four regions that have announced their referendum plans together make up about 18% of Ukraine’s territory. Russia does not fully control any of these four.
Ukraine has dismissed the announcement of the referendum in the occupied territories as a “sham” stemming from “fear of defeat”, while Western supporters of the country have indicated they will not change their support for Ukraine.
America condemned: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield denounced the expected referendum during a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba on Tuesday, and reiterated that the US would not allow any attempt by Russia to “claim annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory”. Attempt will not be recognized.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that the referendum would have no credibility and would not affect US support for Ukraine.
Russian support: The potential referendum has not been fully endorsed by the Kremlin, but the announcements have received swift support from Russian politicians. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has publicly supported the referendum in the self-declared Donbass republics, saying it would have “great importance” for the “systemic protection” of residents.
Medvedev, who is the deputy chairman of Russia’s National Security Council, said on his Telegram channel that once the republics were integrated into the Russian Federation, “there is no future leader of Russia, no official capable of overturning these decisions.” Will happen.”