Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia say they plan to hold ‘referendums’ on becoming part of Russia between September 23-27.
Russian-backed separatists in occupied regions in Ukraine say they plan to hold “referendums’” on becoming part of Russia between September 23-27.
Ukraine and its Western allies have condemned the planned referendums which could set the stage for Moscow to escalate its seven-month-old war.
Votes will take place in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics of the Donbas region, which Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised as independent shortly before sending troops into Ukraine in February, according to officials and news agencies.
A vote will also be held in the southern Kherson region that Moscow’s troops captured in the early days of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, and in the partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhia region.
In a televised address on Wednesday, Putin said: “We support the decision made by the majority of citizens in the people’s republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions.”
Who controls what in Ukraine?
Russia does not fully control any of the four regions. The map below shows the areas under Russian and Ukrainian control as of September 20.
Russia controls more than 90,000 square kilometres (34,750 square miles) of territory or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area – roughly the size of Portugal or Jordan.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. With Crimea and the territory in the four other regions, Russia would gain an area about the same size as the US state of Pennsylvania.
If Russia goes ahead with the referendums and includes the four regions in Russia, then Ukraine – and potentially its Western backers too – would, from a Russian perspective, be fighting against Russia itself.
That would raise the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance, a scenario that US President Joe Biden has said could lead to World War III, because NATO members are supplying arms and giving intelligence to Ukraine.
Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows the use of such weapons if it is attacked with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.