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Human Rights

Russia moving quickly to annex occupied territory as Ukraine plots counter-offensive

The White House says they are returning to the 2014 playbook used to "liberate" Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk

July 24, 2022 8:21am

Updated: July 25, 2022 6:12pm

Russian officials and their allies in captured Ukrainian territories are “racing” to permanently annex regions it has seized in the south as Ukraine begins moving to retake them.

State-run news agency TASS reported Saturday that Moscow’s proxies in the occupied region of Kherson, in southern Ukraine right above annexed Crimea, had created an election committee to conduct a referendum on joining Russia and accepting nominations

The only regional capital seized by Russia in its five-month invasion of Ukraine, Kherson has been targeted by Ukrainian forces as it prepares for a counter-offensive to claw back seized areas in the south.

The announcement said the elections and referendums would allow residents of the “liberated Kherson Region” to have a say in the future of the area.

But U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned on Tuesday that Moscow was preparing “sham” referendums to annex more of Ukraine, returning to the 2014 playbook used when it seized Crimea and supported separatist uprisings in Donetsk and Luhansk, in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas.

Referendums there were supposed to legitimize Russia’s claims to the area but were marked by election fraud and intimidation, reports the Washington Post.

Kirby called any upcoming referendums by Russia and its allies “premeditate, illegal and illegitimate.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told state media on Wednesday that Russia had changed the geography in Ukraine, effectively redrawing its borders, reports the Post.

"Now the geography is different," Lavrov told RIA Novosti, saying that Moscow’s military mission now extends past Donbas. He warned that the military will aim to take even more territory in Ukraine if the West continued to supply them with advanced long-range missile systems, like the American HIMARS.

Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of the R.Politik Russian political analysis group, told the Washington Post that Lavrov’s comments the first attempt to legitimize future Russian annexations.

She said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in no rush to hold these referendums, as he believes that he is winning the war and can take his time. But Moscow’s proxies in the occupied regions are “desperate” for quick absorption into the Russian mainland.

“For them, it’s a question of security in fact and guarantees for their future,” Stanovaya explained.