Voting began at 5 a.m. in four Ukrainian regions that are partially or fully controlled by the Russian military. GMT (8 a.m. Lithuanian time) and must end on Tuesday, Russian news agencies reported.
Kyiv’s allies in the West consider the pseudo-referendums in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as in the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, to be fictitious and have promised to impose new sanctions on Moscow.
“Referendums” are being held in the occupied territories of Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier this week that 300,000 the mobilization of army reservists, which also received strong condemnation in the West.
The mobilization was announced after Ukrainian forces recaptured almost all of the northeastern Kharkiv region in a massive counter-offensive that retook hundreds of towns and settlements that had been under Russian control for months.
The annexation of the four occupied territories to Russia after pseudo-referendums, the outcome of which is probably not in doubt for anyone, will mark a new escalation of the war.
“We cannot and will not allow President Putin to go unpunished,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday and strongly condemned the “referendums” in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
“The international order that we have gathered here to support is being destroyed before our eyes… [Ukrainos suvereniteto gynimas] means the defense of the international order, when no state can redraw the borders of another state by force,” he said.
In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea, which belongs to Ukraine, after a similar “referendum” held on this Black Sea peninsula.
Most of the international community did not recognize the results of that plebiscite. In response, the West imposed a series of sanctions on Moscow.
Western leaders gathered in New York this week unanimously condemned the pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine and the mobilization of reservists announced by V. Putin. French President Emmanuel Macron called the vote “a travesty” in an address to the UN General Assembly.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has hit back at Western accusations by saying that Ukraine promotes “Russophobia”.
“Today they are trying to impose a completely different narrative on us about Russian aggression as the primary cause of this tragedy,” Lavrov told the Security Council.
In the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose “independence” Putin recognized shortly before the invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, residents must answer the question of whether they support their “republic’s accession to Russia” in a so-called referendum, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
“Referendum” ballots in Kherson and Zaporizhia ask: “Do you support secession from Ukraine, the region’s becoming an independent state and its joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?”
According to TASS, the voting process in the four regions will be unconventional.
“Given the short deadlines and the lack of technical equipment, it was decided not to organize electronic voting and to use traditional paper ballots,” the statement added.
Officials will first go door-to-door and collect votes for four days, and on the final day of the “referendum”, on Tuesday, polling stations will be open for residents to cast their votes.
The leader of the self-proclaimed “people’s republic” of Luhansk, Leonid Pasečnik, told TASS that they had been waiting for this referendum since 2014, calling the vote “our common dream and common future.”
However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the so-called referendums as a “farce” and thanked Western allies for their united condemnation of Russia’s actions.
“I am grateful to everyone in the world who supported us and clearly condemned yet another Russian lie,” he said in his daily address on Thursday.
Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would defend itself using “all available means” if its territorial integrity was threatened, and former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on social media that this meant using “strategic nuclear weapons.”