The referendums held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine have drawn to a close and the votes tallied. Russian-installed election officials in all four regions report overwhelming majorities in favor of becoming part of Russia. The referendums took place in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Combined, these four areas represent fifteen percent of Ukrainian territory. Now, their days of belonging to Ukraine are numbered.
As expected, the referendum results have prompted Russia to move rapidly to annex these regions. Annexation is expected by the end of the week. From that point forward, in the view of the Kremlin, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will become sovereign Russian soil. Putin will address Russia’s parliament on the subject on Friday and Russian lawmakers could consider annexation legislation as early as next Monday.
Today, Russia has swung back to playing the nuclear threat card, intending to deter Ukraine from moving to retake the territories after the annexation becomes official. As sovereign Russian soil, the territories will be placed under the protection of the entire Russian military arsenal including nuclear weapons. Moscow is also hoping to influence the tenor of the war and warn off the United States and Europe from continuing to contribute significant military and other material support to Ukraine as the war drags on. It is apparent the referendum and coming annexation, coupled with the latest nuclear threats from Moscow appear primed to move the war into a new, potentially more dangerous phase.
Then there is the matter of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline ruptures beneath the Baltic Sea on Monday. It is becoming apparent the leaks were deliberate, which leads to the question of who would be responsible for an act of sabotage on the pipelines. That subject will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.
Staged voting in referendums across Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine began on Friday as international condemnation of the referendums increased considerably. The results of these referendums will assuredly be in Russia’s favor. When all is said and done, and the vote totals counted up, Moscow will move to annex the areas of Ukraine now under its control, as well as a swath of territory under Ukrainian control at the moment. This is not a new tactic. Vladimir Putin’s government used it in 2014 after Russian troops entered and took control of Crimea. In that instance, the referendum and subsequent annexation exerted Russia’s will and intentions. The ballots now being handed out in the Russian occupied areas asks a single question: Do you wish to secede from Ukraine and create an independent state that will enter the Russian Federation?
The referendums are being held over four days in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizka. There have been significant made by Russia to ‘Russify’ these regions over recent weeks. Access to Ukrainian cellphone networks and internet services was severed. The ruble has replaced Ukrainian currency and schools now teach a Russia-based curriculum. One fear of residents in the occupied areas is that annexation will lead to conscription into the Russian armed forces. The prospect of Ukrainian forced to fight fellow Ukrainians is not appealing to many of the residents who still remain in the occupied areas.
What comes in the aftermath of the votes being tallied and the eventual annexation has the power of potentially setting this war on a new and inherently more dangerous path. On 27 September, we’ll look closer at what the referendum and subsequent annexations could have in store for Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the world.
-The city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region will be the next objective for Russian forces operating in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are closing on the city with units from the Western and Eastern Groups of Forces now just 10 miles from there. Ukrainian forces in and around Sloviansk are digging in and preparing for the enemy assault, which is expected to begin within two days. The city’s mayor has ordered an evacuation of all remaining residents. The effort to clear out Sloviansk began rather later than expected, partly owing to the widening gap between events on the ground and how they are being reported by the Ukrainian and Western medias. The articles and reports coming from a number of media groups and journalists are borderline pro-Ukrainian propaganda, based on reports from Ukrainian government officials and the military instead of facts.
-Revised forecasts by economists indicate Russia is heading towards a less severe recession than forecasters had originally expected. Rising oil production in Russia has done much to offset the economic sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe as well as by other nations around the world. It also speaks volumes for the degree of preparedness Russia had gone to in order to make its economy as sanction-hardened as possible. In the months leading up to war there was a considerable amount of speculation that Russia’s economic security had been fortified to an extent. A fair number of US and European economists and analysts rejected the notion and continued forward with their belief that the weight of global sanctions would do severe damage to the Russian economy and deter Moscow from embarking upon a course of belligerence for very long.
It has been some time since I posted an update on events in Ukraine. Quite honestly, it was becoming tedious to cover nothing but the conflict in Ukraine for weeks on end. Especially once the Russian offensive in the north was spent. From then it was clear this war was fated to drag out relentlessly for months. Possibly even beyond a year. As it stands at the moment, Russia’s offensive in the east is making gains. Although Western media attempts to water down this news, the fact of the matter is that Russian forces are advancing and capturing territory in Luhansk and Dontesk, as well as north of Crimea where a rejuvenated southern front is now active.
As the war continues on, Ukraine finds its military in need of more resupply. Although little is mentioned openly about Ukrainian military losses and consumption, it is clear the need for fresh ammunition and weapons systems is increasing. To help, the United States has committed to supplying a limited amount of HIMARS rockets and launch vehicles to Ukraine’s army. The HIMARS rockets are very capable and have a long range that could enable them to reach targets in Russia. Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy assured the US that he will not target Russian territory with HIMARS.
On Sunday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine and the West that if long range weapons are sent to Ukraine, Russian forces will expand their target list. To back up the warning, explosions rocked Kiev as the capital city was attacked for the first time in weeks. Russia claims it attacked tanks supplied by European nations, while Ukrainian government spokesmen said a railway repair plant.
With the possibility of the conflict in Ukraine expanding as a result of Putin’s warning, Today’s DIRT will be going back to providing a Ukraine Update once every 2-3 days, as well as entries on other events in the world.
Joe Biden’s ‘major speech’ was anything but. The address given by Biden in Warsaw today was a rehashing of the US and Western positions on Russia and Russian leadership. The highlight came when Biden called for Putin’s removal from power. He labeled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘strategic failure’ reaffirmed US and Western support for Ukraine and that the world must prepare for a ‘long fight ahead’. Biden also attempted to adopt a firm stance when he warned Russia about taking action against any NATO member-state.
On Saturday afternoon, Lviv was struck by three Russian missiles. Two of the missiles landed in the city’s eastern outskirts, reportedly at an oil or fuel storage facility. A short while later a third missile impacted somewhere inside the city limits. Lviv’s mayor also said the city has been targeted by airstrikes.
With Kiev and most other Ukrainian cities proving to be nearly impossible objectives to capture, the Russian military is shifting its focus to the Donbas region. In an operational briefing on Friday, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoy stated his nation’s is now the liberation of Donbas. “The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Rudskoy announced to gathered reporter. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which…makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of the Donbas.”