Russia must not repeat its follies with ‘referendums’ in occupied regions

It was tantamount to an admission by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself that Russia’s unilateral invasion of Ukraine has been met with an unexpected counteroffensive and its military is on the back foot.

In his televised address to the Russian public, Putin announced that he had issued a partial mobilization order to complement the number of soldiers sent to Ukraine. Under the plan, 300,000 reservists are to be called up.

The Russian military deployed about 150,000 soldiers and volunteers at the start of the invasion in February. According to U.S. estimates, 70,000 to 80,000 have been killed or injured, but the mobilization of reservists had been put off because of the potential for a public backlash.

The reason for the change in policy this time is that the Ukrainian military has launched a substantial counteroffensive, recapturing nearly all of the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, among other areas. The Russian military reportedly withdrew in September after losing an occupied area equivalent to the size of Hiroshima Prefecture.

Even if reservists are mobilized, it still takes a certain amount of time to conduct training and send them to the front lines. Protests against the mobilization order have taken place in Russia and some people are fleeing the country. Things may not go as Putin hopes.

What should not be overlooked is the fact that in four regions, including Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and Kherson in southern Ukraine, “referendums” are being planned on whether to be annexed by Russia. Putin said in his address that the Kremlin would support the decisions made by a majority of residents in those regions.

Putin will likely annex the four regions based on the referendum results and declare them “Russian territories.” The move is apparently aimed at containing the Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive to defend Ukraine by characterizing it as “an attack on Russia” and putting the brakes on Western nations’ military assistance to Kyiv.

However, there is no justification for “referendums” unilaterally decided by pro-Russian locals. It is a violation of international law that infringes on Ukraine’s sovereignty.

There is also concern that residents mobilized by Russian forces in annexed regions could be made to fight their fellow Ukrainians.

The barbaric actions of a major power that have led to the deterioration of the international order and inhumane conditions can never be tolerated. The U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly need to adopt a resolution to nullify the referendums and strengthen international pressure to stop Russia’s senseless actions.

Putin claimed that the fight in Ukraine is turning into a battle with the entire West and again issued threats to use nuclear weapons. Putin should face up to the fact that his own folly was responsible for triggering the intervention by the United States and Europe.

Measures taken by the United States, Europe and Japan have certainly produced results. The nations must remain united, continue to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, while avoiding the risk of a nuclear war.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 23, 2022)