Russia initiates official annexation of occupied Ukrainian areas

A confidant of President Vladimir Putin predicted that if two Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine hold referendums on joining Russia later this week, it would permanently shift the geopolitical landscape in Moscow’s favor.

It comes as Putin mulls over his next move in a confrontation that has lasted for almost seven months and generated the most severe East-West schism since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and comes after Russia suffered a combat reverse in northeast Ukraine.

The self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), supported by Russia, and the neighboring Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) announced that their respective referendums would be from September 23rd through the 27th.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the DPR, issued an open letter to Putin on social media, in which he pleaded with him to consider the DPR’s incorporation into Russia “as soon as possible” in the case of a successful vote, about which the DPR leaders are confident.

Officials deployed by Russia in southern Kherson, where Moscow’s forces control over 95% of the territory, announced their own decision to hold a vote earlier on Tuesday. Authorities in the pro-Russian Zaporizhia region of Ukraine were anticipated to follow suit.

Ukraine and the United States have clarified that they will not recognize the results of illegitimate referendums.

Before the announcements, the former Russian president and current UNSC vice chairman Dmitry Medvedev had hinted that such decisions would be final and give Moscow, which has the world’s most significant nuclear arsenal, free rein to protect what it would consider its territory legally.

When Russian land is invaded, all available means of self-defense are fair game, Medvedev wrote on Telegram. Kyiv and the West are terrified of holding referendums for this exact reason.

He further noted that any future Russian leader could not overturn the results under the current constitution.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament (the State Duma), has stated that his chamber will support the two regions joining Russia if they decide.

Medvedev’s interpretation of what de facto annexation would legally imply from Moscow’s point of view appeared to be a future warning to the West, as Washington and the West have been careful not to give Ukraine weaponry that may be used to shell Russian territory.

The results of these referendums could profoundly impact Russia’s trajectory for the foreseeable future. Of our nation, yes, but also of others. Once the additional areas were brought into Russia, he argued, “the geopolitical revolution of the world will be irreversible.”

Given that Russian and Russian-backed forces control only around 60% of the Donetsk region and Ukrainian troops are trying to recover Luhansk, it is unclear how the referendums would be held.

Some pro-Russian officials have suggested holding the votes online.

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine occurred eight years before this proposed move.

Attack on Luhansk

The referendums were declared after Ukraine claimed victory over Russia in the Luhansk region, retaking the settlement of Bilohorivka and preparing to regain the entire province.

Social media posts purportedly showed Ukrainian forces in the village, located 10 kilometers west of Lysychansk, a city that had fallen to the Russians in July following weeks of warfare.

For every inch, the governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Gaidai, warned his people on Telegram. As a result, the opponent has begun making defensive preparations. For this reason, we will not merely march in.

Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, has disputed Russian claims that its government forces are persecuting and even shelling Russian speakers in Luhansk and Donetsk as part of a “special military operation.”

This month, Ukrainian troops launched an advance against Luhansk after quickly clearing Russian forces out of the northwestern Kharkiv area.

On Monday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised address, “The invaders are visibly in a panic.” He added that the country’s military was now concentrating on “speed” in liberated territories.

Our troops are moving at a breakneck pace. Yet, Zelenskiy praised the quickness with which life was returned to normal.

The Ukrainian leader has also suggested that he use a video speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to urge countries to hasten the delivery of weaponry and aid.

Reuters was unable to confirm claims made by either side of the war.