Ukraine Update 27 September 2022: Referendums And Pipelines

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.

Referendums Begin In Russian-Controlled Areas of Ukraine

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.

Ukraine Update 21 Sept. 2022: Putin Ups The Ante

Vladimir Putin has upped the ante in Ukraine and made it clear that he is determined to end the war on terms favorable to Russia. In an address to his nation Putin announced the call-up of approximately 300,000 reservists. The Russian leader cited Western material support for Ukraine as the primary reason for the mobilization. He labeled the move ‘necessary and urgent’ in light of the advanced weapons that the United States and European nations have been pouring into Ukraine since February. Russia’s standoff with the West has not dissipated. Putin accused the West of ‘nuclear blackmail’ and warned that Russia has nuclear weapons of its own. Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast has alarmed the Russian government. This was made apparent by Putin’s support for referendums being hastily set up in territories occupied by Russian forces. Annexation of these areas will make them part of Russia. After that, any potential Ukrainian attacks against them can be considered aggressive action against Russia itself. Putin has declared he is prepared to use every weapon in Russia’s arsenal to defend ‘Russian territory.’ 

 “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said in the address. “This is not a bluff.”

As for the partial mobilization, 300,000 is a significant number of reservists. It will be some time before these citizens-turned-soldier are ready for duty. How useful they will be on the frontlines in Ukraine remains to be seen. Some will inevitably end up there, but not all. Most likely, not even the majority. The move also runs the risk of sewing domestic dissent inside of Russia. Protests broke out across the country in response to the callup. Russian police and security forces detained over 1,300 demonstrators. Although unsanctioned protests can result in prison terms for those found guilty of organizing or attending them, a significant number of Russians chose to take part. The prospect of reservists being called up hits close to home for many Russians. Suddenly the war in Ukraine, which has seemed far away and of little consequence for the average Russian citizen, is now standing at the front door.

Central Asia Cools Down and a European Energy Update

  • Last week’s border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have ended and a fragile ceasefire is in place. Both nations have agreed to withdraw considerable amounts of military hardware and troops from the disputed area of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. The fighting that took place along the border between 14-16 September included tanks, aircraft, and artillery. Over 100 deaths were reported during the strife.

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for there to be “no further escalation” between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. He also reached out to the leaders of both countries and urged them to take steps to resolve the border dispute through peaceful means. Although being members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have a history of tensions accented by the occasional border clash.

“We continue our efforts to resolve the Kyrgyz-Tajik border issues in a purely peaceful way,”    Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov told his citizens in an address Monday. Tajik government officials spoke along similar lines, calling negotiations the key to resolving Tajik-Kyrgyz issues.

  • European government continue to make plans and preparations for an anticipated energy crunch this coming winter. Germany is moving promptly to secure LNG contracts with a number of Persian Gulf states as the flow of gas from Russia is running at severely reduced levels. Meanwhile, Spain and France are revising their respective contingency plans in the hope of avoiding power cuts.

French energy corporation EDF’s efforts to repair and reactivate a number of nuclear reactors is meeting delays. Corrosion has had more of an affect on the reactors and plants than originally thought. If the reactors cannot be brought back online by winter, EDF has warned it might be forced to take ‘exceptional measures’ once the weather turns.

Spain is looking at the possibility of requiring energy-intensive companies to cease operations during consumption peaks. Meanwhile, Finland’s national grid operator Fingrid is warning that Finns should be prepared for power outages come winter.

UN General Assembly Returns Next Week Amid Serious Challenges

With UN General Assembly set to get underway next week,  UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges the glut of troubles facing the world at the moment. He described the state of the world as “A time of great peril.” Fair description considering the wars, economic crisis, poverty, climate chaos and other issues in play across the planet right now. The question is: What is the United Nations prepared to do about it?

Guterres is calling for cooperation from UN member-states, while acknowledging the global response to these crises has been weakened by a number of mitigating factors. In an interview with NPR, the secretary-general admitted that the supranational body’s ability to contend with matters such as the Ukraine-Russia War and the energy crisis now brewing in Europe is limited. More to the point, Guterres doesn’t expect UN efforts to result in progress to be made on many fronts.

This will be the first in-person General Assembly since 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath many leaders attended remotely. 140 world leaders are expected to attend, a marked increase from 2021’s 80. There will be one exception granted though. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy was granted permission by the UN General Assembly to address the body via video link.