Putin is expected to annex parts of Ukraine after the referendums are over

KYIV, Ukraine – Four days of phased-managed referendum on Russia’s participation in occupied Ukraine’s regions ended on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow officials used crude intimidation tactics profile, including men wearing ski masks at polling stations, Orwellian messages and flimsy attendance at festivals to influence the vote.

The referendums are meant to showcase Russian democracy, and although most Western leaders dismiss them as a sham, they can have chilling consequences. . Expected results show that the overwhelming majority of residents voted to join Russia, setting the stage for the Kremlin to officially announce the merger as soon as this week.

Russian state media have reported what they describe as a result of the enormous level of support for Russia’s participation in the four occupied territories. Russian news agency Tass reported 92.68% supported Zaporizhzhia, 86% in Kherson in the south, 93.95% in Donetsk and 98.53 in Luhansk in the east.

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, told the UN Security Council that Russia was holding “fake” referendums in an attempt to “obliterate the rules of international law”.

“This is an attempt to steal another state’s territory,” he said in a televised address to the Council on Tuesday.

The staged votes drew widespread international condemnation, and world leaders vowed not to recognize the announced results.

At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said the United States would never recognize territories annexed through referendums. He accused Russia of what he called “a diabolical plan” to move local Ukrainian residents out of captured areas and buses of Russians in order to get them to vote.

Dmytro Orlov, mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol, said in an interview that the results of the vote were meaningless because of the tactics of intimidation. “They banged really loudly, they rang the doorbell, they gave everyone a ballot and pointed with their rifle where it should be marked,” he said.

Orlov said Moscow’s purpose is clear: to claim the land in four provinces occupied by the Russian Army is partly from Russia and asserts that Ukraine is currently attacking Russia and not the other way around.

President Vladimir V. Putin stated that Russia will defend the territories by all means. The country has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who now serves as the deputy chairman of the country’s Security Council, reiterated on Telegram on Tuesday that Moscow has the right to defend itself with nuclear weapons and that it is “certainly not a hoax”.

A formal merger would require a vote in the Russian Parliament. Mr Putin is expected to speak before both houses on Friday, suggesting that a possible vote on the merger could follow, British military intelligence reported.

Ukrainians have expressed concern that an immediate consequence of the annexation would be forcing their citizens to join the Russian army, forcing them to take up arms against their country. In some areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, which have been occupied by Russia since 2014, that is was the case.

Maria Varennikova, Carly Olson and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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