Russia’s former president said Tuesday that if Ukraine’s breakaway regions vote to join Russia, it would allow Moscow to utilise its full military capability in the Donbas region.

Dmitry Medvedev, who is also a former prime minister, said that ballots in the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk republics to integrate into Russia would help protect residents of the east Ukraine region by expanding Moscow’s military mandate.

“Encroachment into Russian territory is a crime and if it is committed, that allows you to use all possible force in self-defence,” Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s security council said on social media.

Medvedev said the votes would correct “historical justice” and be irreversible.

“That is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and in the West. That is why they need to be carried out,” he added.

Large parts of the industrial Donbas area have been controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, after nationwide demonstrations ousted Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president.

Russia at the time annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine with a vote that was criticised by Kyiv and the West, which imposed sanctions in response.

The leader of the Donetsk rebel group Denis Pushilin said on Tuesday that a vote on joining Russia was overdue.

“I think that people have long been waiting for a referendum here and it will probably be a political move that will help ensure the safety of civilians,” Russian news agencies quoted him telling state television.

EU Pledges Lasting Support at ‘Historic’ Kyiv Meeting
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EU Pledges Lasting Support at ‘Historic’ Kyiv Meeting

The EU’s 27 nations have remained broadly united through the 19 months of war on their support for Ukraine, hitting Russia with 11 rounds of sanctions and spending billions of euros on arms for Kyiv.

Pushilin said he had been in touch with the leader of the Luhansk rebels to coordinate and that since Monday, officials of the separatist administration had begun working out details.

Officials in the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Tuesday also urged Moscow-installed authorities to hold a vote on joining Russia.

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