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“Referendums” in Donbas are a sign of Putin’s weakness – DW – 09/20/2022

Destroyed building in Mariupol, July 2022
Destroyed building in Mariupol, July 2022Photo: Valentin Sprinchak/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Fasten your seat belts, Russia’s war in Ukraine is entering a new, decisive phase. Statements by Moscow puppets in the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhye region on holding from September 23 to 27 pseudo-referenda joining Russia did not come as a surprise. This is a political bomb, the explosion of which was expected.

The Kremlin’s response to the defeat in the Kharkiv region

Talk about Russian annexation plans parts of the territory of Ukraine According to the Crimean scenario, they sounded from the spring, but there was no certainty. The Kremlin waited and hoped that by autumn the Russian army would be able to occupy the entire Donbass and southern Ukraine. This did not happen, the blitzkrieg failed, and in early September, the Ukrainian army was able to conduct a brilliant counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, freeing more territory than the Russian Federation was able to capture in a few months. Slobozhanshchina managed to jump out of the lion’s mouth at the last moment. A “referendum” was also planned there, but now it will not take place.

Roman Goncharenko
Roman Goncharenko

The decision to speed up the process is an attempt to make up for the failed blitzkrieg, but the annexation itself is part of Moscow’s original plan. At some point, it seemed that the Ukrainian offensive forced Russia to postpone the annexation until the end of autumn, but The Kremlin is in a hurry. And haste is a sign of weakness. Russia has decided not to wait until its army completely occupies the Donetsk and Zaporozhye regions. It would take a long time to wait, the pace of advancement slowed down significantly, and in some areas Ukraine stopped and pushed back the aggressor. Obviously, in Moscow they are afraid of the liberation of more and more new districts. This is another reason for the current haste.

There are others. Defeat in the Kharkov region hit hard on the image of the Kremlin and the Russian army. Even loyal supporters of the war began to show discontent openly. Against this background, the forced annexation is an attempt to appease them and show that the war has yielded results. Perhaps Moscow links the annexation with new opportunities for covert mobilization, which is not going the way the country’s leadership would like. Although it is doubtful that the Russians will be more willing than before to fight for the “new lands” just because the Kremlin recognizes them as part of the Russian Federation.

The collapse of illusions about a diplomatic solution

Finally, there is another reason for the rush – the anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will turn 70 on October 7. From the very beginning of the invasion, many observers assumed that Putin wanted a special “gift” for the anniversary – the destruction of Ukraine. And although he did not succeed and will not succeed, the annexation of at least part of the Ukrainian lands can be perceived as the implementation of this crazy plan.

Neither Ukraine nor the West recognize the results of the pseudo-referenda and the subsequent annexation. Kyiv has repeatedly said that holding “referendums” would mean the end of negotiations on a diplomatic solution to the military conflict. So it will be. This is the collapse of the illusion that diplomacy can change anything. We’re going to the red line.

Western politicians will no longer have the moral right to call Kyiv for peace talks with Moscow, and the government in Kyiv will have another argument to demand from the West the supply of modern heavy weapons and the imposition of new sanctions. Although it must be admitted that their arsenal is almost exhausted.

Russia will threaten nuclear weapons more loudly

Should we now expect an escalation at the front? Yes, although both sides do not have the strength for a decisive breakthrough. The main question that many are now asking themselves is whether Russia, after the annexation, will go to use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine? Indeed, in the Russian military doctrine it is written that this is possible in the event of a threat to the existence of the state. This cannot be ruled out, but the risks of such a step for Moscow are too great – including because of the proximity of its own borders.

There can be no doubt that Russia will even more openly threaten precisely this. If the Russian Federation uses nuclear weapons against Kyiv, this will not help it win the war, but will only accelerate the collapse of the current Kremlin power.

Author: Roman Gocharenko, columnist for DW

The comment expresses the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editors and Deutsche Welle generally.

See also:

Putin’s new “Crimea”

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