Occupied parts of Ukraine vote on joining Russia in ‘sham’ referendums

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Voting is scheduled to begin on Friday in four regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia. referendum When he joined Russia in a move that increased the risk of an invasion of Moscow seven months after the fighting began.

A referendum illegal under international law could pave the way for Russia’s annexation of the region, allowing Moscow to frame ongoing plans Ukrainian counterattack As an attack on Russia itself.

Such a move could provide Moscow with a pretext to escalate a faltering war that has seen Kyiv regain thousands of square miles of territory this month.

In a speech on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the specter of nuclear weapons in his speech, saying he would use “all means at our disposal” if he deemed Russia’s “territorial integrity” endangered. Stated.

The vote, which was to take place over five days, was called by pro-Russian officials in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Russian-held areas of Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south, and asked questions about the vote. Varies slightly by region. Together the four regions occupy about 18% of Ukraine’s territory.

The plan, which is under military occupation and effectively carried out at gunpoint, has been denounced as a “fake” by both the Ukrainian government and its Western allies. The European Union has said it will not recognize the results, suggesting it is preparing a new sanctions package against Russia.

Putin supported the referendum in his address to the nation on Wednesday.

“The parliament of the People’s Republic of Donbass and the civil-military administration of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions have decided to hold a referendum on the future of these regions. He stressed that he would do everything possible to ensure safe conditions for people to express their will.

In both Luhansk and Zaporizhia provinces, local officials urged people to vote from home and said they could bring ballot boxes.

The Luhansk region is almost completely controlled by Russian and pro-Russian forces. But it remains contested – Ukrainian forces liberated the village of Bilohorivka earlier this week.

On Friday, the Ukrainian governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region said in what he called a “pseudo referendum”, “the Russians will calculate and draw an outcome in their favor.”

“People’s opinions don’t matter,” Serhiy Heyday said in Telegram, adding that “armed men are involved at each polling station and their appearance forces people to vote quietly.”

Ahead of the vote, pro-Russian officials attempted to drive voters into a frenzy. Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti introduced posters being distributed in Luhansk. It reads: “Russia is the future.”

“We are united by 1,000 years of history,” it says. “For centuries we were part of the same great nation. The disintegration of the state was a great political disaster.

In areas where many voters live close to the front lines of the conflict, such a hasty process seems unlikely to succeed or be fair, observers say. Additionally, voting databases may be outdated due to widespread internal displacement since the conflict began. In Kherson, for example, Ukrainian officials say about half of the pre-war population has left.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation, which monitors the election, has accused it of an “illegal referendum”.

“A so-called “referendum” planned by or with the support of the armed forces illegally exercising de facto control over the occupied territories of Ukraine shall be subject to international standards and international humanitarian law. shall not be held legally liable as a result thereof. His OSCE, which monitors elections in 57 member states, said:

In a referendum held in Crimea in 2014, 97% of voters formally voted in favor of annexation, which was ratified by Russian lawmakers within a week.

This time around, some regions will announce their results earlier than others. Authorities in Luhansk said they would announce the results the day after the polls closed, while in Kherson, authorities wait five days after the polls close.

Earlier this week, pro-Russian officials in the occupied territories warned that the security situation was due to Ukrainian forces advancing offensives in Donetsk and parts of Zaporizhia, endangering Russian positions and supply lines in Kherson. The vote was likely to be postponed to .Almost daily attacks from Ukrainian artillery.

Earlier this week there was a sudden and attuned change of heart.

Since then, Russian politicians have been quick to voice their support, pointing out that once these regions join Russia, they will be entitled to full Moscow protection, assuming the vote is in favor. .

Russian parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachev said Russia has a duty to protect these territories and an attack on them would be considered an attack on Russia “with all consequences”.

Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and deputy chairman of the Russian National Security Council, said this was “extremely important” for the “organized protection” of the population, and that any weapons in Moscow’s arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used. stated more clearly that it could be To defend the territories that joined Russia from Ukraine.

“Intrusion into Russian territory is a crime against which all means of self-defense can be used,” Medvedev said.

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