The San Juan Daily Star
Putin expected to annex parts of Ukraine after referendums end
By Andrew E. Kramer
The four days of stage-managed referendums on joining Russia in occupied parts of Ukraine wrapped up on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow officials used raw intimidation tactics, including armed men in ski masks at polling stations, Orwellian messaging and thinly attended festivities to influence the vote.
The referendums were intended to be a show of democracy by Russia, and even though most Western leaders dismissed them as a sham, they are likely to have chilling consequences. The purported results claimed the great majority of residents had voted to join Russia, giving the Kremlin a rationale to formally announce annexation as soon as this week.
The Russian state news media was reporting what it described as results showing enormous levels of support for joining Russia in four occupied territories. Tass, the Russian news agency, reported 92.68% in favor in Zaporizhzhia, 86% in Kherson in the south, and 93.95% in Donetsk and 98.53% in Luhansk in the east.
The staged votes earned broad international condemnation, and world leaders vowed not to recognize the announced results.
At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would never recognize territories annexed through the referendums. He denounced Russia for what he called a “diabolical scheme” to move local Ukrainian residents out of captured areas and bus in Russians for the purpose of having them vote.
Dmytro Orlov, mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol, said in an interview the results of the voting were meaningless because of intimidation tactics. “They bang loudly; they ring the doorbell; they give people a ballot and point with their rifles where to put the mark,” he said.
Orlov said the aim of Moscow was clear: to claim the land in four provinces partly occupied by the Russian army as Russian and assert that Ukraine is now attacking Russia, not the other way around.
President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will defend the territories with any means. The country has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Dmitry Medvedev, the former president of Russia who now serves as deputy chairman of the country’s Security Council, reiterated on Telegram on Tuesday that Moscow had the right to defend itself with nuclear weapons and that was “definitely not a bluff.”
Formal annexation would require a vote in the Russian parliament. Putin is scheduled to address both houses Friday, suggesting that a possible vote on annexation could take place then, British military intelligence reported.
Ukrainians have expressed fears that one immediate consequence of annexation would be conscription of their citizens into the Russian military, forcing them to take up arms against their own country. In parts of Luhansk and Donetsk, which have been occupied by Russia since 2014, that is already the case.