Residents in the eastern Ukrainian republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas regions and in other parts of Russian-controlled territories began voting Friday in a referendum with which Moscow seeks to legitimize the military deployment in the area since February.
Voters are to choose whether they want their land to remain Ukrainian or to belong to Russia. Voting started two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization of reservists. It will continue until Tuesday and the preliminary results are expected to be released by Wednesday.
Moscow has recognized Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) as independent states since February. Russia currently controls the Kherson Region, as well as large parts of the Zaporizhzhia Region, while Kyiv regards these areas as under illegal Russian occupation.
The European Union has already called the referendums a “sham” and the United Nations is also against the public consultation as a tool to settle the matter.
DPR head Denis Pushilin said there were “worrying signs” that Kyiv might launch an attack shortly.
The referendums are believed to be creating a scenario whereby Kyiv's counteroffensive could be regarded as an attack on Russia, thus providing Putin with an excuse to escalate its military endeavor.
Anti-war protests have erupted across Russia where about 1,300 people were detained by police, while others sought to leave the country by any means possible.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the so-called referendums in areas under Russian control would be an annexation and any annexation of the territory of a state by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the UN Charter and international law.
Putin Wednesday threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.