Two Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine announced plans to hold referendums on joining Russia later this week and an ally of President Vladimir Putin said the votes would alter the geopolitical landscape in Moscow’s favour forever.
The move, which seriously escalates Moscow’s standoff with the West, comes after Russia suffered a battlefield reversal in northeast Ukraine and as Putin ponders his next steps in a nearly seven-month-old conflict that has caused the most serious East-West rift since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Russian-backed, self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the neighbouring Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said the planned referendums would be held from 23-27 September.
In a post on social media addressed to Putin, DPR head Denis Pushilin wrote: “I ask you, as soon as possible, in the event of a positive decision in the referendum – which we have no doubt about – to consider the DPR becoming a part of Russia.”
Earlier on Tuesday (20 September), Russian-installed officials in the southern Kherson region, where Moscow’s forces control around 95% of the territory, said they had also decided to hold a referendum. Pro-Russian authorities in part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region were expected to follow suit.
Ukraine and the United States have said such referendums would be an illegal sham and have made clear that they and many other countries would not recognise the results.
Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, said on Twitter that the sham “referendums” won’t change anything.