Russian referendum to annex Ukrainian territories enters final day | World

The referendum that Russia organized to try to annex 15% of Ukrainian territory is due to end on Tuesday (27).

Voting began on Friday in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions.

Ukraine and Western countries say the referendum is a farce and will not recognize the result.

The Russian government says it wants to rid Ukraine of nationalists and protect the Russian-speaking communities in the country.

The Ukrainian government and Western countries describe the conflict as a war against Ukraine.

Military votes in referendum in Luhansk, a region controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the military situation in Donetsk, one of four areas where voting is taking place, is difficult.

“We are doing everything to contain enemy activity. This is our number one objective now, because the Donbass (Eastern Ukraine) is still the number one objective for the occupiers,” he said.

Last week, leaders of the Russian-backed occupation lined up to call for referendums on joining Russia.

The self-styled People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Putin recognized as independent just before the war, and Russian officials stationed in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions asked for votes.

Over the weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia will defend any territory it annexes using any weapon in its arsenal.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the US would respond to any Russian use of nuclear weapons and said Moscow knew “exactly what that would mean”.

Asked about Sullivan’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there are channels for dialogue to talk about these issues.

Decisive week in the Russian legislature

The TASS news agency published a text last week in which it said that the Russian legislature could debate a bill on the incorporation of parts of Ukraine as early as Thursday.

Another agency, RIA Novosti, has already said Putin could be preparing to deliver a speech at a legislature session on Friday.

Who controls the regions?

Today, none of the provinces in question is fully under Moscow’s control. Fighting is ongoing along the entire front line, and Ukrainian forces report further advances since defeating Russian troops in Kharkiv province earlier this month.

The exiled mayor of Russian-controlled Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region accused Russia of forcibly enlisting Ukrainian men in occupied areas into its armed forces and denounced the referendum as a farce.

Ukrainian Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian-backed officials were carrying ballot boxes door-to-door, accompanied by security officials, and that residents’ names were noted if they did not vote as required.

Moscow says voting is voluntary and turnout is high. When he held a referendum in Crimea after taking that peninsula in 2014, he declared that 97% of the people voted for annexation.

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