This is a major escalation in the conflict. Pro-Russian authorities in several regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced on Tuesday that Russia will hold annexation referendums from September 23-27. These elections will take place in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (east), whose independence Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized shortly before launching his offensive against Ukraine last February, as well as in the areas under Russian occupation in Kherson region (south).
The integration of these regions into Russia, following referendums whose outcome is not in doubt, would represent a major escalation in the conflict in Ukraine. Russia has already annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea (south) in 2014, an attachment ratified by a referendum which had been preceded by a military intervention and which is denounced as illegal by kyiv and the West.
“The Donbass is coming home”
The territories of Donetsk and Lugansk, which together form the Donbass region, are partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists who rose up in 2014 against kyiv with the support of Moscow. It was the head of the self-proclaimed “Parliament” of the Lugansk region, Denis Miroshnichenko, who first announced the election dates on Tuesday.
“The Council of the Nation decides to set the dates for the vote for the referendum from September 23 to September 27, 2022,” he said, as quoted by the official Lugansk news portal. Soon after, the head of the neighboring Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, announced a referendum on the same dates. “The Donbass is coming home! “, he launched during a speech.
Integrating the Donetsk region “as soon as possible”
In a message posted on Telegram, Denis Pushilin also urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to quickly annex the region after the referendum. “In the event of a positive decision [à l’annexion] during the referendum, which I do not doubt for a moment, I ask you to consider the question of the integration of the Donetsk People’s Republic into the Russian Federation as soon as possible,” writes Denis Pushilin.
“The long-suffering people of Donbass deserve to be part of this great country that they have always considered their homeland,” he added. In the process, the head of the administration of the Russian occupation in the region of Kherson (south), Vladimir Saldo, also announced a referendum on the same dates.
“All forces of self-defense”
“In accordance with the decree, the referendum [d’annexion] will be held from September 23 to 27, 2022,” he said on Telegram. Faced with a “difficult” situation, “the regional administration will do everything necessary to ensure the safety of all residents of the region” during the election, said Vladimir Saldo.
In addition to the regions which announced the dates of the referendum on Tuesday, the Russian occupation authorities in the region of Zaporozhye (south) have also expressed their desire to join Russia. The announcement of these referendums comes as the forces of kyiv are carrying out counter-offensives which are arousing the concern of the occupying forces installed by Moscow. Before the announcement of these dates, the former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev had warned Tuesday that in the event of an attack against the annexed territories, Moscow would use “all the forces of self-defense”.