Saturday, November 26, 2022

Explainer: what is behind the referendum in occupied Ukraine?

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Voting in the four occupied territories in Ukraine is set to begin Friday in a Kremlin-engineered referendum on whether to become part of Russia, a stage for Moscow to annex the regions in a sharp escalation of the nearly seven-month war. to prepare.

Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected the vote as illegitimate And neither free nor fair, saying that they would have no binding force.

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A look at the referendums and their potential implications:

Why are referendums being held?

The Kremlin has used this strategy before. In 2014, it conducted a hasty referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region, which the West also called illegal and illegitimate. Moscow used the vote as justification for annexing the Black Sea peninsula in a move that was not recognized by much of the world.

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On Tuesday, officials in the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbass abruptly announced that a referendum on joining Russia would begin on Friday. Moscow-backed officials in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions in the south also called a vote.

The move reflected a change in the battlefield after months of conflicting signals from Moscow and separatist officials about the referendum.

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During the summer, when the Kremlin hoped to quickly annex all Donbass territory, local officials talked about holding votes in September.

Russian troops and local separatist forces control almost the entire Luhansk region, but only 60% of the Donetsk region. The slow pace of Russia’s offensive in the east and the Ukrainian push to reclaim territories in the Kherson region prompted officials in Moscow to talk about delaying votes until November.

The Kremlin’s plans changed again as a power Ukrainian retaliation this month forced Russian troops to retreat from wide areas of northeastern Kharkiv region and raised the prospect of greater gains by Kyiv’s forces.

Observers say that by moving swiftly to absorb occupied territories in Russia, the Kremlin hopes to force Ukraine to halt its counter-offensive and either accept existing areas of occupation or face devastating retaliation. Is.

What is happening in the areas where polling will be held?

The 2014 vote in Crimea was conducted under the close supervision of Russian troops after they overran the peninsula, where most of the residents were pro-Moscow.

Separatists, who have controlled large parts of the Donbass since 2014, have long insisted on joining Russia and have shown little tolerance for dissent. When the rebellion broke out there, the separatists quickly held a referendum in which a majority voted to join Russia, but the Kremlin ignored the result.

The two regions declared their independence from Ukraine weeks after Crimea was annexed, triggering an eight-year battle that President Vladimir Putin used as a pretext to launch an invasion in February to protect its residents.

In the southern regions, which were occupied by Russian troops in the early days of the invasion, anti-Russian sentiments prevailed. Hundreds of pro-Kyiv activists have been arrested, many of whom have alleged that they were tortured. Others were forcibly deported, and thousands fled.

As Russian forces penetrated into the Kherson region and part of the Zaporizhzhya region, Moscow-appointed officials cut Ukrainian TV broadcasts, replacing them with Russian programming. They have handed out Russian passports to residents, introduced the ruble and even issued Russian license plates to pave the way for them to join Russia.

The Moscow-appointed administration has come under constant attacks by members of the Ukrainian resistance movement, which have killed local officials, bombed polling stations and other government buildings, and helped the Ukrainian military target key infrastructure.

What is being said about the validity of the vote?

The five-day voting process will take place in the absence of independent monitors and will provide ample room for rigging the results.

When the referendums were announced earlier this week, West immediately questioned their legitimacy. US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz referred to him as Sham, and French President Emmanuel Macron said he would have “no legal consequences.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also called them “noises” to distract the public.

How is Russia’s military mobilization related?

A day after the referendum was announced, Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to strengthen his military in Ukraine, and he also announced that he was ready to use nuclear weapons. To prevent any attack on Russian territory.

The defense ministry said the mobilization – Russia’s first since World War II – is aimed at drawing up about 300,000 reservists with previous military experience. However, observers noted that Putin’s decree is broad enough to allow the military to increase numbers if needed. Some reports suggest that the Kremlin aims to gather 1 million men in a secret part of the decree.

The Kremlin has long shied away from such an unpopular move, wary of Fominin dissent and eroding Putin’s support base.

latest ukrainian counter-attack exposed Russia’s inability to control a 1,000-kilometre (over 600 mi) frontline with the current limited strength of volunteers. Military experts say it will take months to prepare the newly called reservists for battle.

How is Putin’s nuclear threat related?

As Putin grapples with ways to avoid a new humiliating defeat, he signaled on Wednesday his readiness to use nuclear weapons to defend the country’s territory — a move that Ukraine needs to prevent its invasion of territories. A blunt warning to what is now set to become part of Russia.

Observers saw Putin’s threat as an effective ultimatum to Ukraine and its Western backers to halt the conflict or face a potential escalation to a nuclear conflict.

While Russian military doctrine envisages the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or aggression involving conventional weapons, which “endangers the existence of the state,” Putin’s statement further reduced the limits for their use. .

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, headed by Putin, escalated the president’s threat on Thursday that after absorbing four Ukrainian territories, Moscow would use “any Russian weapon, including strategic nuclear weapons” to defend them. Can do.

The mention of strategic nuclear forces, which include intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers, warned that Russia could target not only Ukraine but also the US and its allies with nuclear weapons.

Zelensky dismisses nuclear threats as sham and vowed to liberate all occupied territories.


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