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Russia begins referendum to claim Ukrainian territory, possibly escalating the war

Western governments claim the referendum is ‘a sham’ and could escalate violence in Ukraine and against other countries

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Military vehicle driving under referendum billboard in Russia

A military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard that reads: “With Russia forever, September 27,” prior to a referendum in Luhansk, Luhansk People’s Republic controlled by Russia-backed separatists, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Associated Press

Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine started voting on a referendum to join Russia. What does that mean for Ukraine and the Russia-Ukraine War?

Basically, it means that Russia is holding a vote within the four Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, as well as in Russia, to ask whether those territories would like to join Russia or not.

International law deems the referendum illegal and Western governments claim it is “a sham,” but it “could pave the way for Russian annexation of the areas, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself,” CNN reported.

How could the Russian referendum affect the war in Ukraine?

The referendums are controversial because Ukraine still views itself as a sovereign state, separate from Russia — even in the four areas where the referendums are taking place, which Russia has taken over.

“It’s all staged, and it’s all fake,” Ukrainian Viktoria Yermoleny told NPR. “... The Russians are just going to write the numbers that they need and be done with it.”

The United Nations and Ukrainian officials are currently investigating new evidence of war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine — “including at least 30 displaying signs of torture,” per The Associated Press.

Ukraine made the largest gains so far in the war two weeks ago, and this week, Russia announced a military mobilization of 300,000 reservists, prompting a mass exodus from Russia for young people of fighting ages, as reported by the Deseret News.

The voting started Friday and will go until Tuesday, Sept. 27. If the regions are accepted into Russia, the Kremlin warned that any Ukrainian attacks will “be seen as an attack on Russia,” per The Washington Post.