Vladimir Putin stages ‘votes’ to annex occupied Ukrainian territories


Russia on Friday began staging UN-condemned “referendums” to annex the roughly one-fifth of neighboring Ukraine it occupies, marking a new escalation in the spiraling conflict between President and the US and its allies.

The votes are a “violation of the UN Charter and law,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

The Kremlin ordered the ballots after its forces suffered their worst defeats to Ukraine’s military since the early weeks of the seven-month-long invasion. Putin this week also called for a “partial mobilization” to draft 300,000 reservists.

He stepped up his threats toward Ukraine’s US and European allies, saying he’s ready to use Russia’s entire military arsenal to protect its “territorial integrity” which would extend to the newly-seized regions.

The annexation votes mean “Russia is burying the prospects of negotiations with its own hands,” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address late Thursday. Peace talks have been moribund for months.

There’s no suspense over the outcome of balloting that occupation authorities said would last for five days, with state media reporting immediately that support for annexation would run from between nearly 90 per cent to almost 100 per cent.

Russian troops don’t fully control the territory of any of the four regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk where the votes are being held and fighting is raging in all of them.

In Moscow, officials said they’d move quickly to finalize absorption of the territories into Russia. Regional authorities across the country also staged rallies Friday to try to show popular enthusiasm for the annexations, even as thousands of men receive call-up papers that bring the war much closer to home for Russians.

Pre-war polling data showed only about a fifth of people in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions favored joining Russia, the Kyiv Institute of Sociology said on its website, citing results of its studies from 2021-2022. “The only way to unite these regions with Russia based on referenda is to falsify their results,” it said.

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