Tomorrow Vladimir Putin will announce the annexation of Ukraine’s occupied territories into Russia. This marks the most serious escalation of the war yet.
September 2022 is going to be remembered as a major turning point in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Started 7 months ago in February, this month saw the definitive choice by Vladimir Putin to commit to the long war. Russian soldiers will not be home by Christmas, and neither will Ukrainians.
One week ago, illegal referendums were held in occupied Ukrainian territory. They concerned the annexation into Russia of the regions currently controlled by Moscow, and the result published by Russian officials spoke majorly in favor of this decision.
The four regions, namely the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson Oblasts, will be officially annexed to Russia tomorrow in a speech held in Red Square, Moscow. Vladimir Putin himself will likely deliver the speech, mirroring the same illegal annexation of Crimea back in 2014.
The soon-to-be-annexed regions amount for 15% of Ukraine territory (actually a bit more, given that they are not completely under Russian military control): a landmass roughly the size of Hungary and Portugal combined, and this is without counting Crimea. Obviously, the government of Kyiv and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky have not recognized the results of these referendums.
And neither has any other nation, not even close Russian allies like Kazakhstan and Serbia. Indeed, many reports show that civilians were forced at gunpoint to vote in favor of Russian annexation, and soldiers would write down names of every household they passed by.
Legality or not of the referendums, they mark a serious escalation of the war, which could lead to very dangerous consequences.
What is the reason behind the referendums
As I said at the beginning, September is a crucial turning point in the war. Putin committed to the long war when he declared partial mobilization of 300.000 new conscripts. So far, the troops on the front consisted of paid mercenaries from the remotest regions of Russia and not citizens of the European side.
But Putin was forced to take this action. The Ukrainian counter-offensive at the beginning of the month showed that the war was not going as planned. Western weapons, which were shipped to Ukraine throughout the summer, annihilated Russian positions and disrupted every major supply line.
At that point, Putin could have bailed out and negotiated a peace with what he’d got, but instead he decided to commit to the long war. This meant not only sending fresh Russian troops to the front, but also putting the occupied regions under the “nuclear umbrella”. As Russia’s official always said, they would use their nuclear arsenal only when “The integrity of Russian territory is put at risk”.
These referendums served to prove that occupied regions are now officially part of Russia (despite the clear violations of international law they entail), and Putin might have the justification for a nuclear escalation. At that point, nobody knows what will happen.