In challenge to the West, Russia unveils plan to annex parts of Ukraine – Times of India


LONDON: 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 could greatly escalate the conflict.
After nearly seven months of war, including a critical defeat on the battlefield in northeastern Ukraine, Putin is pondering his next steps.
In what appeared to be choreographed requests, Russian-backed officials across 15% of Ukrainian territory — an area roughly the size of Hungary or Portugal — lined up to request referendums on Russia joining.
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.
Officials from Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson said the referendums would take place in just a few days – from Friday, September 23 to Monday, September 27. Russia does not fully control any of the four regions, with only about 60% of the Donetsk region in Russian hands.
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 territories should determine their destiny, and the whole current situation confirms that they want to master their fate.”
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.
“All 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.”
Russian nuclear doctrine permits the use of such weapons if weapons of mass destruction are used against them or if the Russian state is threatened by conventional weapons.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said he would support the annexation 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 veils primitively,” said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to the Ukrainian president. Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“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.
Bigger 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 cautiously said 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.
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.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was overthrown 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.
After Russian forces took control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine during Soviet times, a referendum was held on February 27, 2014 to join Russia on March 16.
Crimean leaders voted to secede from Ukraine with 97 percent of the vote. Russia formally added Crimea on March 21. Kiev and the West said the referendum violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

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