Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial draft mobilization on September 21 and vowed to defend the right of the Donbass, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions to hold referenda on joining Russia, as the latter continues its special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine.
"Once the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions are integrated in the Russian Federation, the game is over," said Paolo Raffone, director of the CIPI Foundation, a Brussels-based geopolitical think tank. "In fact, the US president has repeatedly said that his country is not at war with Russia and that he does not want to commit US troops on the ground to fight Russia nor he wants to use non-conventional weapons. Due to the domestic problems in the US, it would be difficult to reverse such an approach at least until the presidential elections in 2024."
The referenda on joining Russia will be held in the four regions of eastern Ukraine on September 23-27. In a Wednesday address to the nation, Putin drew attention to "the policy of intimidation, terror, and violence" pursued by Kiev against Donbass residents and Ukrainians holding pro-Russian views. This policy has become "more massive, terrible and barbaric," the president underscored.
The Donbass region has been under Kiev's attacks since 2014, when a US-backed coup díťtat saw the democratically elected president, Victor Yanukovich, ousted by neo-Nazi paramilitary groups. The de facto authorities of Ukraine launched an "anti-terrorist" operation against the pro-Russian population of eastern Ukraine in April 2014. Regardless of the efforts of the Normandy Four, Kiev has rejected the path to reconciliation with its breakaway republics outlined in the Minsk Agreements.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's opposition figures, journalists, politicians, and even children who voiced views contradicting Kiev's agenda have been routinely placed on the list of "enemies of Ukraine" by the notorious Mirotvorets ("Peacemaker") website, with some winding up dead. After the beginning of the Russian special operation on February 24, Ukrainian military forces and neo-Nazi battalions stepped up purges against pro-Russian Ukrainians as well as the torture and murder of Russian prisoners of war (POWs).
"We know that the majority of people living in the territories liberated from the neo-Nazis, and these are primarily the historical lands of Novorossiya, do not want to live under the yoke of the neo-Nazi regime," said Putin. "We cannot, we have no moral right to let our kin and kith be torn to pieces by butchers; we cannot but respond to their sincere striving to decide their destiny on their own."
Putin further underscored that Washington, London and Brussels are openly encouraging Kiev to move the hostilities to Russian territory and even resorting to the nuclear blackmail. The president highlighted that Russia will protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty "by all the systems available to us," adding that Moscow possesses different types of weapons, some of which are more modern than NATO weapons.
West Up in Arms About Russia's Move
Putin's address has been met by "formalistic hysteria of the West," according to Raffone. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the US ambassador in Kiev both claimed that Russia's partial draft mobilization and the referenda are "signs of weakness." German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said that the development is "bad and wrong," while British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace surmised that Putin's speech indicated that Ukraine is "winning." For his part, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw "cannot agree" with the Russian decision.
No matter how western leaders react to Putin's speech, it is now clear that any military activity against the regions in question would automatically mean a "war against Russia," according to Raffone. "This is a strong deterrent that worked already in the case of Crimea," the think tank director argued. "Should the US or some EU states not understand this point, the escalation of the war is a certitude."
"The referenda are a logical consequence of the current confrontation," said Tiberio Graziani, chairman of Vision & Global Trends, an Italy-based international affairs think tank. "It is part of the construction of the security zone of the Russian Federation. Furthermore, it ensures the participation of the populations residing there in political and civil life, compromised at least since 2008."
At the same time, the unfolding standoff is much broader than a Russo-Ukrainian conflict, according to Raffone. The crisis stems from Washington's intent to preserve its declining global dominance, the scholar explained. The think tank director observes that in this scheme Ukraine has been used by the US as a "Trojan horse" against both the EU and Russia.
"Since 2001, the rest of the world started working on a new world order that aimed at relativizing the US dominance," Raffone argued. "Europe is a masterpiece of US dominance that cannot be left accessible to 'others' and should have no strategic autonomy. To do so, the US has consistently put pressure on Germany that dared defying the US with various agreements (not only in the energy sector) with Russia and commercial agreements with China. Plans to destabilize Germany and the EU started in 2004-2008 and got further since 2014, using Ukraine as a Trojan horse against the EU and Russia."
Meanwhile, the partial draft mobilization announced by Putin, would have a stabilizing effect on the conflict, preventing it from further escalation, according to Raffone.
"Moreover, the deployment of additional Russian troops in LPR, DPR, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions creates the security conditions for the referendum to take place," the think tank director underscored.