Russia begins annexation votes in Ukrainian regions

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LONDON, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Russia will on Friday begin its plan to annex around 15% of Ukrainian territory via referendums in four regions controlled by Russian forces, a move the West says is a gross violation of international law that significantly escalates the war.

After nearly seven months of war and a critical defeat on the battlefield in northeastern Ukraine earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin explicitly backed the referendums after the Russian-controlled regions lined up to ask for quick votes to join Russia.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR), which Putin recognized as independent just before the invasion, and Russian-installed administrations in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions will hold votes.

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The vote, which the West and Ukraine say is a sham, is due to begin on Friday and end on Tuesday, with results expected soon after.

Russia will formally annex the territories after the results.

“The Kremlin is organizing a fake referendum to try to annex parts of Ukraine,” US President Joe Biden told the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.

“Ukraine has the same rights as any sovereign nation. We will stand in solidarity with Ukraine,” said Biden, who cast the war as part of a global competition between democracy and autocracy.

Ukraine, whose post-Soviet borders Russia recognized under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, says it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory and will fight until the last Russian soldier is kicked out.

Putin, Russia’s supreme leader since 1999, said Russia would never abandon those in the regions it controls and which he said wanted to break away from Kiev.

He sees the war as both a fight to save Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine from persecution and as a way to prevent what he says is a Western plot to destroy Russia. Ukraine denies that Russian speakers have been persecuted.

In a direct nuclear warning to the West, Putin said he would defend Russian territory – and these regions of Ukraine will soon be considered Russian territory by Moscow – with all means at his disposal.


It’s unclear exactly how the votes will work in a war zone when so many people have been displaced. Russia controls most of Luhansk and Kherson, about 80% of Zaporizhzhia and only 60% of Donetsk. The matches continue in all four regions.

There is no doubt about the results.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Russian-installed officials in the regions were targeting fabricated turnout and approval rates, with some turnout figures already agreed.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was toppled in Ukraine’s Maidan revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in Donbas – which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk – tried to break away from Kiev’s control .

After Russian forces took control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine during the Soviet era, a referendum on joining Russia was held on 27 February 2014 on 16 March.

Crimea’s leaders declared 97% of the vote to secede from Ukraine. Russia formally added Crimea on March 21. Kyiv and the West said the referendum violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

“From next week, Russia will consider these Ukrainian territories to be part of Russia and they will claim any Ukrainian attempt to reclaim their own sovereign territory as an ‘invasion of Russia,'” Britain’s Cleverly said.

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Written by Guy Faulconbridge and Felix Light; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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