Commentary: Putin’s ultimate warning to Ukraine and the West

Berlin.
The referendums in the occupied territories will have serious consequences. Why they make the Ukraine war more dangerous.

It was a matter of time before Russian President Vladimir Putin would react to the Ukrainian army’s offensive and massive territorial gains. And above all how.

Now he has scheduled four referendums at very short notice. Starting next Friday, people in the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass – Donetsk and Luhansk – and in the southern Ukrainian regions of Cherson and Zaporizhia should vote on whether they want to belong to Russia.

Ukraine War: Recaptures would mean attacks on Russian territory

The result of these referendums will not be very exciting because it is of course clear. But it has significant consequences for the war in Ukraine.

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While President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s troops are advancing in the Luhansk region, Russia is preparing a formal annexation of the areas with the votes. The Donbass, Cherson and Zaporizhia would then be Russian territory.


Russia will defend its territory by any means necessary

In Putin’s understanding of war, further gains in territory by Ukraine would not mean reconquest of Ukrainian territory, but rather attacks on Russian territory. This may sound formal, but it will change the Ukraine war, it will make it even more dangerous.

So far, Putin has told Russians that there is no war. It is a “special operation” that will soon be over. But attacks on Russian territory could be used by Putin as an opportunity to formally declare war on Ukraine, to call for general mobilization and to ramp up the war machine.

The referenda are also an ultimate warning to the West: Russia will defend its territory with everything it has.

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