Outrageous acts undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty

Russia is trying to impose its own systems on the people of the regions it has taken over in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s outrageous acts against international law will make the situation even worse.

Putin signed a presidential decree simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of the southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia occupied by Russian forces. Previous requirements such as having lived in Russia for five years will reportedly no longer be necessary.

Mayors of major cities in these regions have been ousted and pro-Russian figures have been chosen as new administrative heads. The Russian ruble has been put into circulation and Russian television broadcasts have started. School curriculums are expected to be reorganized from the new semester.

Putin probably wants to demonstrate to the local population as well as the international community that the occupied areas have been separated from Ukraine and are now under Russia’s effective control.

It is not surprising that the Ukrainian government has strongly condemned these moves by Russia, calling them “a gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, norms and principles of international humanitarian law.”

Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to engage in fierce fighting, mainly in the eastern Donbas region. Mariupol, a key strategic city in the south, has been seized after Russia defeated a prolonged resistance. Russian tactics of concentrating forces in the east and south are now yielding results to a certain extent.

It is also alarming that Russia plans to hold a referendum in Kherson over whether the region should be incorporated into Russia. Putin is likely trying to create a false “will of the people” to justify changing the status quo by force, just as he did in the wake of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

What Putin has misjudged is that Ukrainian public sentiment toward Russia has deteriorated significantly compared to 2014. Neither “Russification” nor a referendum will go as planned while anger over the invasion still simmers.

As the U.N. Charter stipulates, the post-World War II international order is based on the prohibition of territorial expansion by force. Putin’s claim that Russians and Ukrainians are historically “one people” is anachronistic and cannot justify the invasion.

To force Putin to recognize his mistakes, Russia’s expanding dominance in Ukraine must not be tolerated — at the very least Russian forces must be pushed back to their positions before the invasion began in February.

The United States and Europe must move forward with additional military assistance to Ukraine and tougher sanctions against Russia, while avoiding an escalation of tensions that could lead Russia to use biological and chemical weapons, or even nuclear weapons.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2022)