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|Kremlin-backed officials in four occupied regions in Ukraine are expected to hold referendums beginning today on whether to formally join Russia. |
The four areas—Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and parts of Zaporizhzhia (see map)—have been under control by Russia or Russia-backed separatists and cut off Ukraine’s access to the Azov Sea and parts of the Black Sea. (Oh, the Kremlin-backed, Putin installed representatives are going to have a clean and representative vote on this?)
The votes are expected to easily pass, though unlikely to be recognized by the majority of the international community. However, analysts say claiming the regions may enable President Vladimir Putin to portray Ukrainian counteroffensives in the region as direct attacks on Russian soil, thereby significantly escalating the conflict.
To bolster capabilities, Putin this week announced the mobilization of up to 300,000 reserves—though their skill level remains unclear. More than 1,300 people have been arrested while demonstrating against the order. Flights departing from Russia reportedly spiked in price as some attempted to flee potential conscription. See updates on the war here.