EU condemns sham referendum results in Russian-occupied Ukraine

EU condemns sham referendum results in Russian-occupied Ukraine
EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. Credit: Belga/ Hatim Kaghat

EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell denounced the illegal referenda held in Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine on Wednesday.

Votes have been held in the last five days in the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk in the east, and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south, making up 15% of Ukraine. The results from Tuesday's count in the four regions were 87% to 99.2% in favour of joining Russia, claimed Russian officials, according to Reuters.

"EU denounces holding of illegal “referenda” and their falsified outcome," said Borrell on Twitter, adding: "This is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty + territorial integrity, amidst systematic abuses of human rights."

"The results are clear. Welcome home, to Russia!" Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president said on Telegram.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to talk to both houses of Parliament on Friday 30 September in which he may announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to Russia, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

Russia's plans

Once the regions have been annexed, Russia would be able to use "all forces of self-defence", wrote Medveded on Telegram on Tuesday.

In an address to Russia last week, Russia said his country had "various weapons of destruction" at its disposal and would "use all means available to us", adding "I'm not bluffing." In an interview with the BBC, Borrel said that the EU took Putin's threat seriously.

"Certainly it's a dangerous moment because the Russian army has been pushed into a corner, and Putin's reaction - threatening using nuclear arms - it's very bad," Borrell said.

In addition to expanded means of 'self-defence', annexation would allow Russia to let soldiers from Donetsk and Luhansk to join the Russian army, while recruiting volunteers from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

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Yet the referendums in Ukraine are illegal as they are taking place without the consent of the Ukrainian government, and are a "blatant attempt by Russia to annex Ukrainian territory," wrote the British MoD.

Moreover, holding a vote "during a war that almost half the population has fled," cannot be taken seriously, Dmitry Oreshkin, a Russian political scientist, told Deutsche Welle.

Similarities with the annexation of Crimea

A sham referendum in Crimea was held in 2014, which approved Russia's annexation of the region. The referendum asked residents if they wanted to join Russia, or if they wanted to retain Crimea's status as Ukrainian.

The result came in as 97% opting to rejoin Russia, with an 83% turnout – an outcome widely rejected by Ukraine and the international community, boosted by a leaked report from Russia's Human Rights Council which gave the referendum a 30% turnout and barely half supporting annexation.

The annexation came after widespread protests in Kyiv against the then president Viktor Yanukovich, who had turned down a trade deal with the EU and instead accepted a $15 billion bailout package from Moscow.

The move led to three months of protests in what is referred to as the Maidan Revolution, which overthrew Yanukovich on February 22. Moscow condemned the uprising as an illegitimate coup, and in late February 2014, Russian forces took over the Crimean peninsula.

Zelenskyy vows to reclaim occupied territories

Similar to events in Crimea, Russia will recognise the results in the Donbas and in the south. The referenda are unconstitutional in Ukraine, but there will be no independent monitoring of the election.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the elections when speaking at the UN Security Council. "Russia's recognition of these sham referendums as allegedly normal, implementation of the so-called 'Crimean scenario' and another attempt to annex the territory of Ukraine will mean that there is nothing to talk about with this President of Russia."

Zelenskyy has vowed to liberate Crimea and all occupied areas of Ukraine.

In response to the referendums, the United States is preparing a new round of sanctions against Russia if it annexes Ukrainian territory, US Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a press briefing on Monday.

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