Almost seven months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, areas under Moscow’s control have announced plans for urgent so-called referendums on joining Russia.
Russia’s invasion has stalled in recent months and Ukraine has recaptured swathes of territory in the north-east.
Now Russian-backed officials in the east and south say they want votes on annexation starting this week.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, after a vote widely condemned as a sham.
The international community has never recognised the annexation but it has long been clear that Russia intends to rubber-stamp its takeover of other occupied regions in the same way.
The deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said early on Tuesday that holding votes in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – also known as Donbas – would correct “historical justice” and be irreversible: “After the amendments to the constitution of our state, no future leader of Russia, no official will be able to reverse these decisions”.
Soon afterwards, the two breakaway Russian-backed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk said they would stage votes on September23-27. They were both recognised as independent by President Vladimir Putin three days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine from north, east and south.
Russian-installed officials in the southern region of Kherson said they would also hold a vote, and a similar declaration came from Russian-occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia.
For months, Russian-installed authorities have tried to organise self-styled referendums, but the ongoing war has made holding them impractical. Ukraine’s counter-offensives have made it harder still.
While most of Luhansk has been in Russian hands since July, on Monday, the Ukrainian leader in Luhansk announced that the army had recaptured the village of Bilohorivka.
Much of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control, although Russia has seized the coastal strip along the Sea of Azov.
Although Russian forces quickly captured Kherson at the start of the war, Ukrainian forces have regained some territory and Russian-installed authorities have faced repeated attacks. Earlier attempts to hold a vote there were postponed. Much of Zaporizhzhia is still under Ukrainian control, including the regional capital of the same name. -BBC