"Sham" referendums will be held as Russia attempts to strengthen its grip over the Ukrainian territory it currently occupies.
On Sep. 20, The Guardian reported that the Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in the east and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south would each conduct a so-called referendum on the question of being annexed by Russia.
But the move comes at a time when Russia is losing control over the territory it invaded and occupies.
Following Ukrainian counter-offensives on the ground, Russia has lost a large amount of territory in Donetsk in a relatively short time.
Ukrainian forces have pushed most of the Russian forces out of the northern region near the city of Kharkiv, seized the transport hub of Izyum and are fighting for control for the strategic city of Kupiansk.
The Ukrainians have also taken the small village of Bilohorivka near Lysychansk in Luhansk, a small but symbolic advance that denies Russia full occupation of the province.
The referendums are likely to be rigged, as demonstrated by a Russian collaborator in Zaporizhzhia, who apparently predicted the outcome even before polls were held.
BREAKING: Pro-Russian Zaporizhzhia governor Vladimir Rogov announces that Zaporizhzhia will declare independence after a referendum— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) September 20, 2022
U.S. will not recognise Russian claims to annexed Ukrainian territory
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said that the U.S. will never recognise Russia's annexations and "sham referenda", and that it will continue to support Ukraine.
Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure. The United States will never recognize Russia's claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.— Ambassador Bridget A. Brink (@USAmbKyiv) September 21, 2022
The Biden administration previously warned on July 20 that Russia planned to use the "same playbook" as they did in Crimea, eight years ago.
Crimea is currently occupied by Russia following a so-called referendum that drew an implausible 97 per cent vote in favour, under international accusations of fraud.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated that U.S. President Joe Biden will use his upcoming speech at the United Nations to rally other world leaders against the annexation. He also reiterated the U.S. stance if Russia proceeds with the rigged polls:
"If this does transpire, the United States will never recognise Russia’s claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine. And we will never recognise this territory as anything other than a part of Ukraine.
We reject Russia’s actions unequivocally. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners to impose costs on Russia and to provide historic support for Ukraine."
Putin orders partial mobilisation
The announcement on the sham referendums was followed by a public speech made by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sep. 21 (Singapore time).
According to the BBC, Putin said "he would employ all the means Russia has to defend "our people" in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine)."
If, as widely expected, the occupied provinces "vote" in favour of Russia's annexation, Putin could falsely portray his invasion of Ukraine as a defence of Russian territory.
Possible use of nuclear weapons
According to a Russian politics expert cited by The Guardian, this would give Putin the reason he needs, in his own mind, to possibly use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukrainian territory.
Putin accused the Western allies of using "nuclear blackmail" against Russia and said he will use "all means" to defend so-called Russian territory.
This is not the first time that Putin has alluded to using nuclear weapons, since he put Russia's nuclear forces on alert way back in February 2022.
Putin also ordered more funding for the production of weapons, following the losses of large amounts of materiel captured by Ukrainian forces in their Kharkiv counter-offensive.
Russia has been slapped with severe sanctions that blocks imports of weapons and technology pertaining to military use.
Singapore is one of the countries that imposed sanctions on Russia, in order to support the principles of sovereignty and international law.
Russian parliament passes law to punish deserters
The day before Putin's speech, Reuters reported that the Duma (Russian parliament) approved of harsh new measures against a number of offences committed during a state of mobilisation or "combat situations".
Actions like desertion, damage of military property and insubordination will face punishment.
Voluntary surrender, for example, carries a 10-year jail sentence. Russian media also seem to be heading off potential public protests against Putin's order with threats of conscription.
Russian media is warning that participants in "illegal rallies" will be subjected to military conscription— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) September 21, 2022
Mobilisation faces its own issues, with the Russian military losses near Kharkiv pointing towards an army that is possibly under-supplied and low in morale.
Top image from Mick Ryan/Twitter and Euronews/YouTube.