The separatist leaders of four Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine say they are planning to hold referendums this week for the territories to become part of Russia as Moscow loses ground in the war it launched

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans Tuesday to start voting this week to become integral parts of Russia. The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes on the battlefield.

The scheduling of referendums starting Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions came after a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said the votes are needed and as Moscow is losing ground in the invasion it began nearly seven months ago.

Former President Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, said referendums that fold regions into Russia itself would make redrawn frontiers “irreversible” and enable Moscow to use “any means” to defend them.

In 2014, Russia sent troops into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and then held a referendum there that paved the way for its annexation by Moscow.

The upcoming votes, in territory Russia already controls, are all but certain to go Moscow’s way. But they were quickly dismissed as illegitimate by Western leaders who are backing Kyiv with military and other support that has helped its forces seize momentum on battlefields in the east and south.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denounced the planned votes as a sham.

“The referendums will change nothing,” he told reporters at U.N. headquarters where he is attending the General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders. “It’s an act of desperation for Russia, but it is not going to help them.”

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would “never recognize this territory as anything other than part of Ukraine,” he said, adding that the Kremlin effort reflects Russia’s setbacks on the battlefield.

“These are not the actions of a confident country. These are not acts of strength,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is also attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York, said: “It is very, very clear that these sham referendums cannot be accepted.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said referendum plans amounted to “cynicism.”

“Russia declared war … and now it explains that in this same region it is going to organize a referendum. If this were not tragic, it might be funny,” he said, adding that the votes would have “no legal consequences.”

Authorities installed by Russia in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions had outlined plans to hold referendums on membership to the Russian Federation later this month. They have been condemned by Ukraine.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called for more sanctions against Russia and more weapons for Ukraine, tweeting: “We must say no to Russian blackmail.”

In Donetsk, part of Ukraine’s wider Donbas region that Putin has set as a primary objective of the invasion, separatist leader Denis Pushilin said the vote will “restore historic justice” to the territory’s “long-suffering people.”

By Admins

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