Russia began referendums on Friday aimed at an-nexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, raising the stakes of the seven-month-old war in what Kyiv called a sham that saw residents threatened with punishment if they did not vote.
The votes on whether the regions should become part of Russia began after Ukraine earlier this month recaptured large swathes of north-eastern territory in a counter-offensive against the invasion that began on Feb 24.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin also an-nouncing a military draft this week to enlist 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine, the Kremlin appears to be trying to regain the upper hand in the grinding con-flict.
And by incorporating the four areas into Russia, Moscow could portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, a warning to Kyiv and West-ern supporters.
Putin said on Wednesday Russia would “use all the means at our disposal” to protect itself, an allu-sion to nuclear weapons.
The war has already killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted millions and pummelled the global economy.
The referendums had been discussed for months by Moscow-installed authorities in the four regions — in Ukraine’s east and south-east — but Kyiv’s recent battlefield victories prompted a scramble to schedule them.
Voting in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, representing about 15 percent of Ukrainian territory, is due to run from Friday to Tuesday..—Reuters