Amid the military victories of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the pro-Russian authorities in the four occupied regions of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – have declared their intentions to hold referendums on joining the Russian Federation on Sep. 23-27. Kremlin stalwarts in these territories have already announced their readiness to organize a “vote” this week.

Now, as Ukrainian troops start to advance into Luhansk Region, Russia is worried it might not be able to win on the battlefield. That is why it has chosen to threaten the world with a potential escalation of the conflict (an official declaration of war – or even a nuclear attack), claiming that it is defending its own territory.

On the morning of Sep. 21,  Vladimir Putin declared that he supports such referendums. He also announced a partial mobilization to replenish his army with 300,000 servicemen. And all these actions are taken with the sole purpose of finding a reason to declare war on Ukraine.

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The fake expression of will

The authorities of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics issued these statements while Ukrainian troops have continued their successful counter-offensive, having already pushed the Russian forces out of most of Kharkiv Region.

Journalists have limited access to the front line; however, there were reports of Ukrainian troops approaching the city of Lysychansk in Luhansk Region, liberating the village of Bilohorivka, and fighting around the town of Lyman in Donetsk Region, which indicates that Russia was risking to lose the territories it previously controlled in the industrial Donbas.

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The Russians are also facing difficulties in Kherson Region. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are advancing. Intentions to hold a referendum on occupied territory have been announced several times, though  the final decision has not yet been made. And on September 20, Volodymyr Saldo, the “gauleiter” of the occupied part of Kherson Region, wrote in his Telegram channel: “I have signed the decree on the referendum on the entry of Kherson Region into the Russian Federation with the rights of a fully-fledged subject of a single state. I appeal to the Russian Federation and other countries to help us to hold this referendum.”

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Denis Pushylin, the so-called head of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” made the same appeal. He also appealed to Putin to accept the “long-suffering people of Donbas” into Russia.

The reaction of the Kremlin, of course, was voiced soon. Dmitriy Medvedev,  a former President of the Russian Federation, posted on Telegram and suggested the self-proclaimed separatist regions in the east of Ukraine hold referendums on joining the Russian Federation as soon as possible.

Medvedev made it abundantly clear that as soon as the occupied Ukrainian territories become part of the Russian Federation, any attack on them will be considered a “crime that calls for using all available measures for self-defense” and a direct attack on Russia. The Kremlin is also thinking  about mobilizing those who live in the occupied territories in the event of their annexation.

Despite the threats from Russia, global leaders have already confirmed that they will not be recognizing the results of these fake referendums. For example, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, warned that the EU strongly condemns these “referendums” and will not recognize their results. All those who are complicit will be held accountable, and new sanctions will be introduced against Russia.

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Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who is often seen as a temporary ally of Russia, in his interview with the PBS NewsHour channel, said that all the lands invaded by Russia should be returned to Ukraine, including Crimea (annexed by the Russian army in 2014). He said: “The seized lands will be returned to Ukraine. No invasion can be justified.”

Proof of the Kremlin’s confusion

In a very Russian way of doing things, Moscow chose to pretend that the initiative about the so-called referendums on the inclusion of certain occupied districts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia Regions into the Russian Federation came from within. “We can not know for sure why Russians decided to speed up this process, but we can talk about potential threats to Ukraine if these ‘referendums’ are indeed held,” says Iryna Pavlenko, an expert at the National Institute of Strategic Studies on political systems.

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In her opinion, in the event that these referendums are indeed held and the State Duma takes a decision in unison with the Federation Council to include the newly-annexed territories into the Russian Federation, the situation from the perspective of the Russian Federation could be interpreted as if Ukraine (armed by NATO  countries) was now attacking Russian territories.

“Russia is facing a military disaster in Ukraine and the Kremlin understands this perfectly well; so, as usual, they are trying to at least raise the stakes, scaring NATO with a potential clash with the Russian Federation” notes Ihor Petrenko, doctor of political sciences, in a conversation with Kyiv Post.

Therefore, the Russian ruling elite uses the subject of referendums, as well as mobilization or declaration of war, exclusively for blackmailing Ukraine and the West. “In practical terms, this step will give them absolutely nothing, no-one recognizes such a referendum, it means nothing” Petrenko assures.

Iryna Pavlenko also comments on the threat issued by Russia to use nuclear weapons in order to once again force Ukraine and its allies to agree to end this war on Russia’s terms: “I would like to remind you that according to the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, the possibility of using nuclear weapons is envisaged in the event of an attack on Russia and in  critical situations for the national security of the Russian Federation. The definition is broad enough for different interpretations.”

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But the political leaders of the world no longer react to the Kremlin’s constant statements about the use of nuclear weapons.

“The only thing Russia is going to achieve is to raise propagandists’ voices inside the country and additional evidence of its inability to hold the annexed territories, as is already happening, for example, in Crimea,” Petrenko says summing up.

Therefore, the intention to hold referendums and illegally annex Ukrainian territories once again could be seen as indisputable proof of the Kremlin’s confusion and inability to control the situation.

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