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Gun voting is over and guess what, according to Russia, 87%-99% of voters in the four occupied regions of Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson want to join Russia.
It’s a sham, of course. President Vladimir Putin is trying to prove to his fellow Russians that he still has a mandate for war in Ukraine. He is trying to freeze the conflict and keep Donbass, some Black Sea ports and protect access to Crimea.
But Putin is shooting himself in the foot by stealing this territory. By annexing territory in all four regions, Putin effectively leaves Zelensky no choice but to keep fighting. Annexation means “there is nothing to discuss with this Russian president,” Zelensky told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
BLUMENTHAL AND GRAHAM CALL FOR ECONOMIC AND MILITARY CUTS IN NATIONS THAT RECOGNIZE RUSSIA’S ANNEX OF UKRAINE
See this move by Putin for what it is: another desperate attempt to stop military aid helping Ukraine push back against Russia.
At this point, there is no political or military reason for Zelensky to pay attention to Putin’s annexation. European leaders are not. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would ‘never’ accept referendums and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock denounced the vote where ‘people were taken out of their homes or jobs’ under threat of a weapon “for voting in glass ballot boxes”.
Militarily, Russian forces don’t even control all the territory that Putin grabs. Ukraine’s regular attacks will not stop or even slow down just because Putin holds a sham vote and gives a speech in Moscow. Ukraine is picking up where Russia made gains over the summer. Although they still have a long way to go, Ukrainian forces have the initiative and are continuing the successful tactic of striking deep into Russian supply lines and defenses.
So why did he do it? One can only conclude that Putin is playing in front of a Russian audience – minus the 180,000 Russians who have already fled the country since the September 21 military call.
Putin also has a bizarre fixation on rigged elections. Putin emerged from his last re-election in Russia in 2018 with 76% of the vote. Of course, it helped opposition leader Alexei Navalny to be left out of the race. The runner-up was “Communist millionaire Pavel Grudinin” in the words of the BBC, and he got 12%.
Putin’s showy elections are fooling no one, and Europe is not wavering in its support for Kyiv and its opposition to Russia. In fact, the fake elections will mostly annoy France and Germany, which for years tried to achieve a ceasefire and real elections in the Donbass via the Minsk process after the 2014-2015 battles.
Unfortunately, Putin has a disastrous set of plans for all four oblasts. He has already sent trusted Russian bureaucrats, installed Russian tax systems and changed what schoolchildren study, according to Mykhailo Minakov of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center. Putin has paired cities in Russia with cities in the four territories for “reconstruction”. Pairing St. Petersburg with Mariupol as a sister city is cynical, sinister and outrageous.
Some would say that Putin is also extending a “nuclear umbrella” over the annexed areas. Forget that. Ukrainian special forces struck Russian supply areas across the border near Belgorod in April.
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US officials have repeatedly stated that there are no restrictions when Ukrainian forces strike Ukrainian territory held by Russian occupying forces. Speaking of which, I hope to see further attacks from Ukraine against Russian military targets in Crimea as soon as possible.
From a tactical point of view, annexation does not increase the chances of a nuclear weapons explosion by Russia. Yes, you read that right. At present, Putin does not have the national support to risk the use of nuclear weapons; can you imagine the lines fleeing Russia if he did that? Also, using nukes won’t do anything for him on the battlefield. Putin cannot reject radiation on annexed lands. He also has to sell the Ukrainian land grab as a victory, and heck, if Putin says he wins, no need for nukes, right?
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What the United States and its allies must do is continue to support Ukraine’s military operations. The revelation of Russian atrocities – most recently in Izyum – gave Zelensky sufficient justification to expel Russia from every square inch of Ukraine.
“Annexation is the kind of move that sets him alone against all of humanity,” Zelensky said of Putin. Once again, Zelensky takes the upper hand morally, rallies international support and retains the initiative.
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