The Speaker
Thursday, 30 May 2024 – 17:41

Russia enters its next stage of its invasion of Ukraine: conscription and annexation

The last two weeks have seen the war in Ukraine reach a new stage, with mounting desperation leading Putin to announce the ‘partial mobilisation’ of Russian civilians into their deteriorating military. Commentators highlight the success of the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive as responsible for Russia’s new path, as Putin is increasingly frustrated, isolated and embarrassed both at home and abroad. Perhaps most significant is the fact that Ukrainian forces have successfully retaken the strategically significant area of Lyman in eastern Donetsk.

Introducing military conscription in Russia is not the only shocking revelation of recent weeks. It has now been announced that Russia is to formally annex occupied areas of Ukraine into the Russian Federation, with the ‘will of the Ukrainian people’ used as justification for such a blatant violation of international law.

The areas of Eastern Ukraine to be annexed include the breakaway independent regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which have been the subject of continual fighting since 2014, and also the South Eastern Ukrainian provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. These regions entail a significant 15% of Ukrainian territory.

Sham referendums in these four areas have been used to legitimise such action. Such referendums saw 4 million people being asked to vote over a five-day period for whether they would like to see the accession of their land to the Russian Federation. However, reports from several independent sources highlight the undemocratic nature of the procedure.

Referendums consisted of pro-Russian election officials knocking on doors accompanied by armed soldiers and asking those who answered whether they would like to join the Russian Federation or not. Some said they were forced to vote to join Russia at gunpoint, and one woman claimed that the election official was the one who wrote her answer down on a piece of paper and keeps it. Clearly, this procedure breaks several democratic principles of free and fair elections, such as the requirement to remain anonymous and not feel victim to coercion and intimidation.

As expected, these referendums were claimed to be won decisively in favour of joining Russia, with pro-Kremlin media outlets in Donetsk and Luhansk reporting that 99.23% of people voted in favour of annexation. On 30 September 2022, Putin formally announced these areas as part of Russia in an address to both houses of the Russian parliament.

This tactic of annexation is not unfamiliar to Ukraine, with the 2014 Crimean conflict following an identical pattern of Russian occupation followed by a falsified referendum and subsequent annexation. Such a method is seen as legitimate by Russia, with their military doctrine highlighting the effectiveness of political manipulation to achieve goals which suit their national interests. The fact that Crimea was never successfully returned to Ukraine should be seen as a worrying example of just how effective Russian tactics can be. If the newly annexed regions continue to follow the Crimean example, it may even encourage Russia to pursue further illegal land grabs of surrounding territories.

Even more disturbingly, Putin’s recent illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory increase the risk of escalation and even nuclear warfare. Russia has claimed that Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are to be treated as Russia. Putin makes it clear that any attempt to invade what he considers ‘Russian’ land will be met with all force at their disposal. As Russia possesses over 6000 nuclear weapons, such a threat should not be taken lightly with the risk of nuclear usage, and therefore global annihilation, a very serious one indeed.

Reactions to this event have been extremely negative, even among those who have remained friendly with Russia throughout the conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Ukrainian President Zelensky reacted very harshly calling the referendum a “farce”, and claiming that it “cannot even be called an imitation of referendums”. He even went as far as to threaten any Ukrainian seen supporting the referendums with criminal prosecution.

A pro-Ukrainian guerrilla group called Yellow Band added to such sentiment, encouraging people to take photos and video individuals seen voting for the referendums in order to track them down and threaten them. Emotions clearly run high as people are willing to snitch on their neighbours and community in order to prevent Russian occupation.

What is perhaps most shocking is the reaction of the international community at large. China, arguably Russia’s most important ‘strategic partner’, made their condemnation of Putin’s actions clear with one spokeswoman claiming that the “sovereign and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected” when asked about events in Ukraine.

Serbia followed this trend despite remaining one of the only remaining European countries refusing to sanction Russia over their invasion. By highlighting the fact that they would not recognise the results of the annexation referendums, it seems as if their patience with Russia is running thin as they become further alienated by the seemingly pointless and dangerous escalation of regional and global tensions.

As this war progresses, it seems as if Putin is becoming ever more desperate and assertive in his actions, firstly with the introduction of the draft, and now with the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. If we look at Crimea as an example, Putin’s actions could be scarily successful at grabbing Ukrainian land in the long-term, and we should not underestimate Russia’s nuclear capability due to the potentially disastrous consequences of doing so.

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