Moscow announced plans to officially make occupied territory in southern Ukraine part of Russia Tuesday, while leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist region announced their own referendums, Reuters reported.
Russian-installed leaders in occupied areas of Ukraine’s Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and the two self-declared independent republics of Donetsk and Luhansk declared intentions to hold referendums from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27, Reuters reported. The elections could allow Russia to annex the regions as the Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive in the Kherson area makes steady progress, according to Reuters.
Vladimir Saldo, Russia’s acolyte leader in Kherson, said he hoped the region would become “a part of Russia, a fully-fledged subject of a united country” in a Telegram post Tuesday, Reuters reported. (RELATED: ‘Taken By Surprise’: Russian Forces Retreat Under Major Ukrainian Counteroffensive On Eastern Front)
“I am sure that the Russian leadership will accept the results of the referendum,” he added.
Russia captured the Kherson region’s namesake, a port city located near Russian-occupied Crimea, in March, the first major Ukrainian city to fall into the Kremlin’s hands. Putin’s troops occupy roughly 95% of the region, according to Reuters.
Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics later on Tuesday revealed plans to finally determine whether to become part of Russia after months of hinting at the prospect, according to Reuters.
Russia controls about 60% of Donetsk, according to Reuters. Ukrainian forces Tuesday retook a village in Luhansk, possibly the first in the territory to return to Ukrainian control, according to Meduza.
Moscow insisted that joining Russia is a decision up to the leaders and citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to Russian state media outlet TASS.
TASS said most residents of the four regions considering a referendum support accession, according to a poll conducted by Russia’s National Institute for Opinion Surveys and Marketing. Luhansk intends to invite international observers to the vote, TASS reported.
“From the very start of the operation … we said that the peoples of the respective territories should decide their fate, and the whole current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their fate,” Russian Foreign Minister Dmitri Lavrov said when asked about the referendums.
Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything. Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilization’. Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) September 20, 2022
Russia’s deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, said Moscow backed the scheme, adding that expanding the breadth of Russian territory would broaden the range of military options available for Russia’s self-defense against the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Reuters reported.
If the regions agree to accede, it would require a formal amendment to the Russian Federation’s constitution so “no future leader of Russia, no official will be able to reverse these decisions,” Medvedev said, according to Reuters.
The referendums come as Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to deliver a virtual address announcing either annexation or a military mobilization early Wednesday morning, The Guardian reported, citing local media.
Putin has said that Russia will “push ahead with the unifying agenda” at the United Nations General Assembly summit, according to TASS.
The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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