Staunton, Sept. 20 – After announcing and then postponing referenda Moscow planned to use to annex the self-proclaimed Donbas and Luhansk republics and the occupied Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions of Ukraine in the face of Ukraine’s successful advance, the Kremlin has now reversed course and ordered these to be held this week.
Earlier, Andrey Pertsev of the Meduza news agency says, Moscow wanted to try to give the patina of legitimacy to its annexation but now all it wants is to have elections and announce the results even if their fraudulent nature will be obvious to everyone and be rejected by most of the world (meduza.io/feature/2022/09/20/partiya-voyny-pobedila).
The commentator says that his sources in Moscow say that this change is the result of successful lobbying of Putin by what many call “the war party” there, officials who favor escalating the war. The Kremlin leader has now accepted their arguments and is moving full speed ahead, not only with these referendums but also with a partial mobilization.
Perhaps the most important part of the new Kremlin calculus is political. On the one hand, some in Moscow are concerned about changes in the political attitudes of residents of these four regions given the Ukrainian advance and even the possibility that Ukrainian forces will succeed in expelling Russian ones from these areas.
And on the other – and perhaps far more significant – Pertsev says that these referendums, however fraudulent they appear, may slow or even halt the Ukrainian advance since in Moscow’s view Kyiv will “not risk entering Russian territory,” although that may prove a weak defense given Ukraine’s proclaimed goal of retaking Crimea Russia views as its own.
However that may be, these referendums and Russia’s proclamation of the annexation of these Ukrainian territories will put Moscow even further outside the international community because unlike in Crimea where the Russian action was not actively opposed militarily at the time, Ukrainians have fought and died to keep Russian forces out of these areas.
Consequently, unlike in 2014, there will be few in the West who will see what Moscow is doing as anything but an act of illegitimate military conquest, however much Russia may seek to dress it up with the hurried up and obviously entirely fake referendums this week.