4 Ukrainian separatist regions planned to vote to join Russia

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine on Tuesday announced plans to begin voting this week to become integral parts of Russia. Kremlin-backed concerted and quick efforts to swallow the four regions could set the stage for Moscow’s move forward war Battling against Ukrainian forces to successfully capture back territory.

Referendums to begin Friday in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya regions were announced after a close aide of Russian President Vladimir Putin said the votes were needed as Moscow loses ground in the war that almost Started seven months ago.

Former President Dmitry Medvedev said only by diverting territories in Russia would make the redrawn borders “irreversible” and enable Moscow to use “any means” to defend them.

The vote, an area Russia already controls, is almost certainly expected to go the way of Moscow, but is unlikely to be supported by Western governments supporting Ukraine with military and other support.

Luhansk and Donetsk together make up much of the Donbass region, which has been engulfed in separatist fighting since 2014 and which Putin has identified as the primary object of the Russian offensive.

In Donetsk, separatist leader Denis Pushilin said that “the long-suffering people of the Donbass have earned the right to be part of the great country they always considered their homeland.”

He said the vote would help “restore the historical justice that millions of Russians have been waiting for.”

Pressure from Moscow-backed leaders within Russia and in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine to pave the way for the vote to become Russian increased in the wake of a Ukrainian counter-offensive – backed by Western-supplied weapons – that previously Occupying large areas of Russian- occupied territory.

In another sign that Russia is digging in for a protracted and potentially raging conflict, the lower house of the Kremlin-controlled parliament voted on Tuesday to toughen laws against abandonment, surrender and looting by Russian troops. Lawmakers also voted to introduce a possible 10-year prison sentence for soldiers who refuse to fight. If approved by the Upper House as required and then signed by Putin, the law would strengthen the hands of commanders against failing morale among soldiers.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that there was no possibility of a diplomatic solution. Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, headed by Putin, said on his messaging app channel that votes in separatist regions were important to protect its residents and “restore historical justice” and that Russia’s future trajectory was “completely will change”.

Medvedev, who served as President of Russia from 2008-2012, said, “A geopolitical transformation of the world will become irreversible when they are organized and new territories are taken under Russia’s fold.”

“An encroachment on Russia’s territory is a crime that would warrant any means of self-defense,” he said, adding that Russia would include new territories in its constitution so that no future Russian leader could give them back.

“That’s why they are so afraid of referendums in Kyiv and in the West,” said Medvedev. “That’s why they should be held.”

The recapture of large areas of previously Russian-occupied territory, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, has strengthened Ukraine’s arguments that its troops could deliver a more severe defeat to Russia with additional weapons deliveries.

More heavy weapons to come, with Slovenia promising 28 tanks this week Germany pledged four additional self-propelled howitzers. Even more aid is expected from Britain, which is already one of Ukraine’s biggest military backers after the United States. British Prime Minister Liz Truss is expected to promise That in 2023, his government will “match or exceed” the 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid given to Ukraine this year.

The swiftness of the Ukrainian counter-attack caused the Russian army to abandon armored vehicles and other weapons, as they decided to retreat in a hurry. The Ukrainian military is recycling captured weapons back into combat. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said on Tuesday that the abandoned Russian T-72 tanks are being used by the Ukrainian military to advance into Russian-occupied Luhansk.

In the wake of retaliation, Ukrainian authorities found hundreds of graves near the once-occupied city of Izium. Yevgeny Yesenin, deputy minister in Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, told a national broadcast that authorities found several bodies with “signs of violent death”.

“These are broken ribs and broken heads, men with tied hands, broken jaws and severed genitalia,” he said.

Ukrainian officials also alleged that Russian forces tortured people in the occupied territories, including shocking them with Soviet-era radio telephones. Russia has repeatedly denied abusing or killing prisoners, although Ukrainian authorities found mass graves around the city of Bucha after blunting a Russian offensive that targeted the capital Kyiv at the start of the war.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian push into the south of the country continues. Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said early Tuesday that its troops sank a Russian boat carrying troops and weapons across the Dnipro River near the Russian-occupied city of Nova Kakhovka. It did not provide any other details about the sinking of the barge in the Russian-occupied Kherson region, which has been a major target in the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

In other developments:

Moscow is likely to move its Kilo-class submarines from its station on the Crimean peninsula to southern Russia as they fear coming under long-range Ukrainian fire, the British military said on Tuesday. In a daily intelligence briefing, the British Defense Ministry said those submarines were “almost certainly” transferred to Krasnodar Krai in mainland Russia, rather than a naval base at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.

McDonald’s eateries in Kyiv were to resume service on Tuesday for the first time since Russia’s invasion in February. The three restaurants only initially planned to offer the delivery service, marking a step back towards life it knew before the Ukrainian War, which enters its seventh month this weekend.

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