The Kremlin plans to hold referendums on joining Russia next month in just two regions of Ukraine amid heavy fighting, according to independent Russian media reported Friday.
Moscow is “impatient” and would like to “succeed” in the referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as quickly as possible amid the battlefield stalemate, the Vyorstka news site said citing unidentified government sources.
At the same time, the Kremlin is postponing similar referendums in the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which it hopes to hold at a later date, according to Vyorstka.
Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 after recognizing the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) as independent states.
The current plan, according to Vyorstka, is to hold votes in the DNR and LNR on September 14 – three days after local elections are scheduled to be held in Russia.
“These territories are Russian regions,” said Andrei Turchak, a senior Russian lawmaker and leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. said Thursday at a party meeting.
The business daily of Vedomosti reported on Thursday that the Kremlin had abandoned plans to link the Ukrainian referendums in the southeast with the Russian local elections on September 11 because of the ongoing fighting.
While the entire Ukrainian region of Luhansk was grasped by Russian troops in July, large parts of the Donetsk region remain under Kyiv control.
“There is no final scenario,” Vedomosti said citing an unidentified source close to the Kremlin. The source added that the Kremlin’s plans depend on “the situation on the front line in general”.
Both reports follow US warnings that Russia could announce the first “mock” referendum in occupied parts of Ukraine by the end of the week.
“Since they are obviously struggling to achieve geographic gains inside Ukraine, they are trying to do so through false political means,” the White House national security spokesman said Wednesday. John Kirby.
Kirby said US intelligence shows Russian officials in occupied areas fear local residents will participate in the vote.
“Russian officials themselves know that what they are doing will lack legitimacy and will not reflect the will of the people,” he added.
AFP contributed reporting.