Four contested regions of Ukraine will vote to formally accede to Moscow, drawing international ire. Pro-Russian leaders however maintain that the move is important for a “stable, happy future”.

Russia is hurrying to tighten its grip on four Ukrainian regions as pro-Russian leaders announce referendums seeking annexation to Moscow. 

The votes, which are to last five days, will take place from September 23 to 27 in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and Kherson and Zaporizka in the south, raising fears that it could further escalate the ongoing conflict.

Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbass region that Moscow partially took over in 2014, to be independent states. Ukraine and many countries consider all parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.

As per Reuters, Russia now holds about 60 percent of Donetsk and had captured nearly all of Luhansk by July after slow advances during months of intense fighting.

Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven from neighbouring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk frontlines.

A call for a referendum amidst a raging conflict has drawn criticism and condemnation from key players in the international community, who have gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

French President Emmanuel Macron attributed the call for the annexation vote as a “parody of democracy”, saying the action represented “a return to the age of imperialism and colonialism”. 

Meanwhile, speaking to the press at the White House, United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan says Washington will never recognise the results coming out of the referendum as legitimate. 

“These referendums are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system and lie at the heart of the United Nations Charter,” Sullivan told reporters.

The pro-Russian leaders of the four regions, however, have signalled their willingness to announce a vote seeking annexation of the territories they administer to Russia, Russia Today reports.

Vladimir Rogov, head of the body administering Zaporizka, says, “We want certainty and a stable happy future for our homeland. We are ready to fulfill our right for self-determination and settle once and for all the issue of the territorial status of our region.”

Mobilisation of troops

In what could be seen as an escalatory measure in the conflict, now into its seventh month, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced today the country’s biggest troop mobilisation since the Second World War.

Calling up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine, Putin says Moscow will respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.

Putin’s measure to call up reservists comes in the backdrop of the announcement of referendums by pro-Russian leaders in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizka, and what the Russian president calls a “nuclear blackmail” by the West.

It also follows recent setbacks suffered by the Russian forces, who have been driven from areas they had captured in northeast Ukraine in a Ukrainian counter-offensive this month and are being bogged down in the south.

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin, in a televised address to the Russian nation, says, adding Russia had “lots of weapons to reply”.

Although Russia has been involved in a number of conflicts since the Second World War, this was the first such call-up since then. The Soviet Union’s long war in Afghanistan involved conscripts.

In his address, Putin says the partial mobilisation of its two million-strong military reservists has been to defend Russia and its territories. 

The West did not want peace in Ukraine, he says, adding that Washington, London and Brussels are pushing Kiev to “transfer military operations to our territory” with the aim of completely plundering Russia.

After Putin’s troop mobilisation call, China has called for negotiations and a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“Beijing calls for a ceasefire through negotiations and solutions that answer all parties’ security concerns,” Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, has been quoted as saying by the state-run Global Times newspaper.

“Every country’s reasonable security concerns should be valued, and all efforts conducive to resolving the crisis peacefully should be supported. China calls for dialogue and consultation to resolve the divergences.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too, has been pushing for peace between the warring sides. 

In an interview to PBS NewsHour, the Turkish president, who is known to wield an outsized influence in both the east and the west, said, Türkiye has been working in tandem with Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations to find an end to the conflict.

During his address at the opening session of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, he called for a "dignified way out" of the seven-month Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

The conflict has so far killed thousands, destroyed cities and sent millions fleeing their homes.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies