War in Ukraine. The imminent Russian annexation of four Ukrainian regions, towards a « turning point » in the conflict

The annexation referendums organized by Moscow in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia ended on Tuesday after five days of voting. Unsurprisingly, the yes was largely in the majority in these referendums decried by the international community. After the first counts, the electoral commission of Russia already affirmed that the yes vote largely prevailed in the polling stations in Russia, around 97%.

In the evening of this Tuesday, the pro-Russian occupation authorities claimed their victory in the four regions after the counting of all the ballots: the local commission of Zaporijjia affirmed that 93.11% of the voters had voted in favor of joining Russia, that of Kherson 87.05%, that of Lugansk 98.42% and that of Donetsk 99.2%.

“There are no surprises in the results, but it is difficult to know who voted yes voluntarily and who voted under pressure or coercion. These are regions that were emptied in the early days of the Russian occupation, and other people left after the announcement of the partial mobilization, which could apply in these territories in the event of annexation”, analyzes Carole Grimaud, lecturer in geopolitics of Russia.

A “turning point” in the conflict

The polls had been organized in a hurry in the face of the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive launched at the beginning of September in the direction of Kharkiv and Kherson. While Russia seemed in difficulty, the referendums could disrupt the course of the war and change the conflict. The territories concerned represent 20% of the surface of Ukraine.

“These referendums are a turning point, it’s something that will provide another legal, strategic framework for Vladimir Putin. In terms of security, these regions will pass directly into Russian hands,” notes Carole Grimaud. Moscow has already assured, through the voice of number two of the Russian Security Council Dmitri Medvedev, that it would defend these new territories « including with strategic nuclear weapons ».

« This attachment could also promote the shift from this ‘special operation’ to an anti-terrorist operation, which would then be presented as a local war as was the case in Chechnya, » says Carole Grimaud. During an intergovernmental meeting on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin assured that the referendums were aimed at “saving the populations” residing in these territories.

Ukraine and the West stand firm

Should we therefore fear an escalation in the conflict? The head of Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba assured that the results of the annexation votes « will not change anything » in kyiv’s actions on the diplomatic and military level. But Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, warned that Ukraine’s attempts to retake the « liberated » territories will be seen by Russia as « an attack on its territory ».

For its part, the West is showing firmness. “The mock referendums organized by Russia have no legitimacy and constitute a flagrant violation of international law. These lands are Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted. Joe Biden has promised to inflict « swift and tough additional economic measures on Russia ». The European Union assured that there would be “consequences for all those who took part in the organization of these illegal referendums and who supported them”. The nuclear threat is also taken very seriously. The White House warned Monday of the « catastrophic » consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, for which the American response would be « consequent ».

“Changes or slowdowns could appear in Western aid, we have to see how Westerners will adapt to this new situation. But any change in the West will also result in a change on the ground,” recalls Carole Grimaud.


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