RUSSIA/UKRAINE: The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has taken a new turn as Western nations slam Moscow’s recent calls for a referendum in parts of Ukraine that are currently under Russian control.
The votes have been called by Russian-backed officials in four Ukrainian regions to ask whether they should become part of Russia.
Western allies, including the United States, Germany and France have said they would never recognise the results of such “sham” ballots. The NATO military alliance said that the plans spelt an escalation in the war.
Plans to run the ballots for five days, starting on Friday, have been announced in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south.
The quartet, which has come under intense Russian aggression and garnered international concern, represent roughly 15% of Ukrainian territory- or an area the size of Hungary, according to Reuters news agency.
The suggestion that fair and legitimate elections could be held during an ongoing war was immediately shot down by the West.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz slammed the Russian plans for “sham” votes while French President Emmanuel Macron ridiculed them as a “parody” of democracy.
“If the Donbas referendum idea wasn’t so tragic it would be funny,” Macron told reporters in New York, where he is attending the United Nations, General Assembly.
He appealed to neutral countries who were still sitting on the fence regarding the war, saying silence or complicity in this situation was a “historic error”.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US would never recognise the votes, calling them “an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said in a statement that any referendum planned by invading forces on foreign land contravenes international law and hence will have no legal or legitimate bearing.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his gratitude to his allies for their support in the face of Russian aggression and its “noisy news”.
Zelensky is expected to address the UN General Assembly by video link later on Wednesday.
There were floating rumours that Russian President Vladimir Putin would give his own, rare address on Tuesday evening- to discuss the planned votes or wider troop mobilization in Ukraine. But no speech came, and the rumours shifted to Wednesday.
The plans to hold votes within a matter of days is widely seen as a push by Putin to accelerate Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, which has launched rapid counter-offensive measures in recent weeks and reclaimed 8,000 sq km (3,088 sq miles) this month.
Cementing its control over Ukrainian land could allow Russia to claim that its territory, not just its army was coming under attack from Western weapons as hostilities continue.
This is because several western nations have been supplying Ukraine with military weapons to help in its defence against Putin’s “special military operation”.
It is feared that this could lead to an intensification of the already-bloody conflict.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed fears that the war could move into the long term if neither side backs down and draws the white flag.
Pro-Russian leaders and supporters in the four Ukrainian regions have backed the referendum plans. The head of the Russian proxy administration in Luhansk, Leonid Pasechnik, said it was “our common dream and our common future.”
Additionally, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev said that the ballots would restore “historical justice” and be irreversible.
The latest moves to call for “referendums” has echoes of Russia’s invasion and annexation of the southern peninsula of Crimea back in 2014.
A vote was also called there to legitimise Moscow’s rule, but similar to the present situation, the vote was labelled illegal and eventually condemned by the international community.
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