As four more areas are due to be added to Crimea as annexed Ukrainian regions, Putin flexes his imperialistic muscles, flanked by the twin threats of general mobilization and nuclear warheads.
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and essentially occupied parts of two regions (oblasts) in Ukraine, incurring the impotent “wrath” of much of the rest of the world. The lack of meaningful pushback from the West at that time was part of what emboldened Putin to invade the sovereign democratic nation of Ukraine some seven months ago. Now, struggling on the battlefield, Putin has resorted to holding sham referenda in advance of annexing further oblasts.
As many analysts have pointed out, these referenda are obviously sham and illegal and do not constitute anything like a reasonable mandate to carry out annexation. To varying degrees, not one of the four regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson are under the full control of Russia. In addition, most pro-Ukrainian residents have fled to relative safety, while the referenda themselves were carried out at gunpoint, with reports of people forcibly taken from houses and workplaces to fill out the ballots.
Indeed, virtually every democratic ideal and rule associated with how to carry out a vote was broken in these ballots, and many are claiming these were largely a way of gathering data on local populations to find out the number of fighting-age men for the purposes of eventually forced conscription.
The results are probably the biggest testament to the sham nature of the referenda:
- Donetsk: 99.23%
- Luhansk: 98.42% #
- Zaporizhzhia: 93.11%
- Kherson: 87.05%
With the turnout being:
- Donetsk: 97.51%
- Luhansk: 92.6%
- Zaporizhzhia: 85.4%
- Kherson: 76.86%
These results are pure fantasy. For example, over a third of Zaporizhzhia Oblast is under Ukrainian control and did not vote. Russia does recognize this, announcing that the remaining area of Zaporizhzhia will be given a further vote when Russia manages to victoriously occupy it.
On Friday afternoon, the Kremlin will hold a signing-in ceremony to officially (as far as they are concerned) annex the four regions. Separatist leaders of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk (collectively known as the Donbas) will sign different agreements to Russian-appointed officials from the other two regions in the south.
It is expected that, in early October, the two houses of the Russian parliament will then complete the ratification process.
The reasons for these annexations are multiple, with Russia almost certainly looking to officially adopt these regions into their own territory. This can then be seen in light of what Putin recently announced [our emphasis]:
I would like to remind those who make such statements about Russia that our country also possesses various means of destruction, and in some cases they are more modern than those of Nato countries. When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we, of course, will use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.
This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.
With these four regions incorporated into Russia. then any attempt to continue to liberate them by Ukraine (and with assistance from NATO) will be seen as a threat to the “territorial integrity of [their] country.”
In other words, in a worst-case scenario, Russia might justify the use of tactical nuclear warheads in response to Ukraine continuing to fight on these fronts, citing this as a direct attack on Russia. This could be the first step in a two-step nuclear escalation. As a result of this, perhaps, many countries in Europe, and the US too, are advising that their citizens remove themselves from Russia as soon as possible.
The eyes of the world will be looking with renewed concern, as if there were more capacity for concern, at the events as they continue to evolve from the Kremlin to the Donbas.
[Check out Jonathan MS Pearce’s daily Ukraine War Updates on YouTube for the latest details on the conflict.]