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Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine plan votes to become listed on Russia

The Kremlin on Tuesday paved just how for referendums, described by Ukraine as “sham” votes, in separatist territories controlled by Russia which could result in the annexation of nearly 15% of Ukraine.

The picture as a whole: The planned votes come after Russia suffered among its biggest setbacks of the war when Ukrainian forces started a lightning counter-offensive earlier this month.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin the other day promised to keep the offensive push in Ukraine, saying, “We aren’t pretty quickly.”

Why it matters: The plans could dramatically improve the stakes of any future territorial losses, and may preclude any peace agreement that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could find acceptable, Axios’ Dave Lawler reports.

Driving the news headlines: In a seemingly coordinated effort, separatists in the Donetsk and the Luhansk People’s Republics proposed referendums to become listed on Russia, with votes potentially coming the moment this weekend, in accordance with Russia’s Interfax news agency.

  • Ukraine has said the referendums are illegal & most of the international community is unlikely to identify the outcomes of the votes.

What they’re saying: “Sham ‘referendums’ won’t change anything,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

  • “Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying elements of Ukrainian land,” he added. “Ukraine has every to liberate its territories and can keep liberating them whatever Russia must say.”

“From the start of the operation … we said that the peoples of the respective territories should decide their fate, and the complete current situation confirms they wish to be masters of these fate,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, per Reuters.

  • Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president from 2008 to 2012 and the existing deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, said that “no official can reverse” the referendums.
  • “Encroachment onto Russian territory is really a crime that allows one to use all of the forces of selfdefense,” Medvedev said.

The most recent: Throughout a White House press conference Tuesday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. won’t recognize some of Russias claims to any purportedly annexed elements of Ukraine.

  • These referenda are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system and lie in the centre of the US charter,” Sullivan said. We realize these referenda will undoubtedly be manipulated. We realize that Russia use these sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories either now or later on.
  • “We shall never recognize this territory as anything apart from within Ukraine. We reject Russias actions unequivocally and we’ll continue to use our allies and partners to impose costs on Russia also to provide historic support for Ukraine.”
  • Sullivan also commented on reports that Putin could be getting ready to enact mobilization efforts, saying, Like its sham annexation planning, that is reflective of Russias struggles in Ukraine. … Russia is knocking together sham referendums on 3-days’ notice because they continue steadily to lose ground on the battlefield so when more world leaders distance themselves from Russia on the general public stage.”
  • Russia is scraping for personnel to throw into this fight. They are not what of a confident country. They are not acts of strength quite contrary,” Sullivan said.

Go deeper… Putin’s “annexation playbook” in Ukraine could leave no way to peace

This story has been updated with statements from U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

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