Russia tried to tighten its hold on land it controls in eastern and southern Ukraine on Tuesday, as Kremlin proxies there announced preparations for referendums on annexation to Russia, signalling a probable escalation of the conflict. This move came after Russia suffered significant combat reverses.
Any further military action by Ukraine in those regions could be seen as an attack on Russia itself, justifying any military response by the nation that possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, if Russia were to go ahead with annexation.
Any purported elections held by Russian authorities, according to Ukraine and its supporters, including the United States, would be a manipulated farce, held under a harsh and coercive occupation, in the midst of an ongoing war, in territory from which millions of people have fled. This is according to the Ukrainian government and its supporters.
A bill that imposes criminal penalties on troops for desertion, surrender, or failure to obey instructions during periods of “mobilisation” and “martial rule” was swiftly voted by Russia’s Parliament on Tuesday, adding to the impression that Russia is upping the stakes. The law gave rise to rumours that Vladimir Putin may declare war on Ukraine and order a large-scale conscription, both of which he has avoided doing so far in an effort to maintain a feeling of normality for the majority of Russians.
Since Russian soldiers withdrew from the northeastern Kharkiv area, losing a wide swath of land they had won earlier in the conflict, international leaders have been perplexed as to what President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will do next. At least a partial response has been provided by officials in four districts of eastern and southern Ukraine that are partially seized by Russia. These officials have said that voting on the question of whether or not to join Russia would begin on Friday and continue for five days.
But there was one voice that was noticeably absent from Tuesday’s fast-paced events: that of Mr. Putin. He made multiple public appearances, including one in which he discussed the growth of tourism in southern Russia; however, he did not mention referendums, despite the fact that prominent figures from Russian state media wrote on social media that he would make a major televised speech to the nation on Tuesday night. He did not mention referendums.
People waited for hours in order to see a talk that never took place; nonetheless, Russian news agencies eventually announced that Mr. Putin was due to speak on Wednesday instead of today. The Kremlin did not make any statement on whether or not Mr. Putin will speak at all.
Since the 24th of February, when Mr. Putin first began his invasion, he has always referred to it as just a “special military operation.” Even while Ukraine viewed the invasion as a full-fledged war, conscripting males of military age and preventing them from leaving the country, Vladimir Putin fought the conflict for the most part with his force at peacetime strength, despite the quickly growing deaths on both sides.
The tensions around the hawkish supporters’ dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin’s lack of aggressiveness in the war’s conduct came to a head following Russia’s embarrassing retreat this month. The previous week, Mr. Putin gave a signal that he was willing to escalate the war by calling recent Russian missile assaults on Ukrainian key infrastructure “warning strikes.” He did this to imply that he was prepared to take the conflict to a higher level.
In addition to this, Putin said that he was willing to engage with Kiev, despite the fact that Ukrainian leaders flatly rejected any idea of a compromise in light of the “rampant terror, bloodshed, torture, and mass deaths” that Russian forces had introduced into their nation.
On Tuesday, the occupying authorities of two further Ukrainian regions, Kherson and Zaporizka, made announcements on their intentions to hold referendums.
This manoeuvre was made as Russia prepared itself for an escalating onslaught by Ukraine, and it occurred after Russia’s humiliating withdrawal from the Kharkiv area in the northeastern part of Ukraine earlier this month. A portion of the Zaporizka area, including the region’s largest city, Zaporizhzhia, is still under Ukraine’s sovereignty. In the southern province of Kherson, which Russia rapidly took after invading in February, Ukraine has been conducting a counteroffensive. Despite the fact that Ukraine’s advance has been slow and expensive in terms of deaths, the country has been making headway.
By Tuesday afternoon, the authorities in charge of occupation in all four areas had made announcements on the schedule of the referendums. Russian supporters of the war, who have been lambasting the Kremlin for not being forceful enough in Ukraine, have been praising the recent events as a potential turning point in the conflict on social media.