In an important development with serious implication, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (LPR and DPR) along with Kherson Region (87%) and part of Zaporozhye Region (93%) in southern Ukraine have voted to join Russia in referendums that were held between September 23 and 27.
Media reports said:
In Lugansk, more than 98.42% of voters have supported the idea to join Russia, official figures show with all the ballots counted. Donetsk has shown similar results with 99.23% of voters supporting the move. Both Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have process all the ballots by late Tuesday, with 93% and 87% of voters respectively backing the split from Ukraine and reunification with Russia.
The process of integrating new regions into Russia may take some time as it requires the approval of the country’s parliament and the president. But Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that he was “convinced it will be fast enough.”
Under the Russian constitution and the federal law on the accession of new constituent members, the procedure includes several steps. Once the regions willing to become part of the Russian Federation submit their proposals to Moscow, the president should inform parliament and the government on the matter, Senator Konstantin Kosachev explained in a Telegram post last week.
If a political agreement on the accession is reached, “draft international treaties on the admission of foreign states or parts of them” to Russia should be developed, Kosachev, the vice speaker of the upper house of parliament, said. These agreements regulate issues such as the name and status of new territories, citizenship, succession, the functioning of public authorities, the operation of legislation, and so forth.
After these treaties are signed, the Russian Constitutional Court should verify if they comply with the country’s supreme law. If there are no violations, the next step will be the ratification of the documents by the lower house, the State Duma, and their approval by the upper house, the Federation Council.
Simultaneously, a draft federal constitutional law on the admission of new constituent units to Russia should be submitted to the Duma. If approved, it then goes to the upper house for consideration.
“This law enters into force no earlier than the entry into force of the international treaties themselves,” Kosachev noted.
Russia’s Earlier Warning
Russia warned earlier that if the Donbass republics and the two southern Ukrainian regions united with Russia, it would consider any attempts by Kiev to retake them as attacks on its own land. “Immediately the Russian Constitution will come into force in relation to these territories where everything is very clearly stated in this regard,” Peskov told journalists last week.
Shortly after the regions decided to hold referendums, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization that involved calling to arms some 300,000 reservists, according to the military. Media reports have suggested that Moscow allegedly plans to mobilize up to a million.
Kiev considers the territories willing to join Russia to be under illegal occupation and said it would not recognize the results of the referendums. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has ruled out any possibility of talks after the voting.
Ukraine’s Claimed Right
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba stated last Tuesday that “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them, whatever Russia has to say.”
Sham Vote, Say EU And U.S.
The EU and the U.S. have already called the voting a “sham.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS on Sunday that the LPR, DPR, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions “will never be recognized” as part of Russian territory. He added that Kiev had “every right” to take them back.
Zelensky Condemns Referendums
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky firmly rejected the referendums staged in Moscow-held parts of Ukraine’s Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions, as well as in the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, on joining Russia.
Speaking during a UN Security Council meeting via a video link on Tuesday, he urged the countries of the world to reject the results. Zelensky also reiterated his threat to stop any contact with Russia should it recognize the results of the referendums.
Ukraine Can Use Western Weapons Against Territories Seized By Russia, Says U.S.
Washington has no objections to Kiev using Western-supplied weapons to target territories that may decide to join Russia, as the U.S. considers the vote to do so illegitimate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.
The U.S. and its allies have supplied Ukraine with a variety of weapons, including tube and rocket artillery. At a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Washington, Blinken was asked if the U.S. had any objections to Ukraine using those weapons to attack targets in Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson, which just wrapped up a vote on joining Russia.
“We will never recognize the annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia,” Blinken told reporters. “Ukraine has the absolute right to defend itself throughout its territory, including taking back the territory that has been illegally seized, one way or another, by Russia. And the equipment, the weapons that we and many other countries are providing, have been used very effectively to do just that.”
In June, when the U.S. first sent long-range HIMARS rocket artillery to Ukraine, Blinken said he had received “assurance” from Kiev that they will not be used on Russian territory, and that he believed them due to a “strong trust bond.”
Kiev’s forces have since used the U.S.-supplied weapons to target civilians in Donbass, Kherson and Zaporozhye, which are under Russian control. Ukraine has also bombed Crimea and border towns in the Russian regions of Kursk and Belgorod. Crimea rejoined Russia in March 2014, after the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev, while Donetsk and Lugansk declared independence.
CIA Warned Germany Of Nord Stream Attack
The CIA warned Berlin about a possible attack on gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea “weeks ago,” German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday. Germany was looking for answers after both of Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines were damaged and a massive gas leak appeared off the Danish island of Bornholm.
A tip from the U.S. spy agency was “received in Berlin during the summer,” the outlet said, citing “several people familiar with the matter.” Officially, however, the German federal government declined to comment on intelligence-related matters.
German security services are currently examining satellite imagery of the area where the explosions occurred, but see only “unremarkable” naval traffic, according to Spiegel. They are also convinced only a state actor could have done this, suggesting “divers or a mini-submarine” could have installed mines or explosives on the pipeline.
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 both suddenly lost pressure on Monday. Danish authorities reported a gas leak off Bornholm, while Swedish seismologists registered multiple explosions. The pipeline operator confirmed multiple gas lines suffered “unprecedented” damage and it was impossible to estimate when, or if, service might be restored.
By Monday evening, the German government was convinced the pipeline was targeted in a deliberate attack, according to the daily Tagesspiegel. Berlin was considering the possibility Ukraine or “Ukraine-affiliated forces” could be behind it, but also a “false flag” by Russia to make Ukraine look bad and drive EU energy prices even higher.
While acknowledging that the “permanent interruption of gas supplies from Russia” would be in Ukraine’s interest, Der Spiegel said such an attack would have “immense political disadvantage” for Kiev. The only motive for Moscow to blow up the pipeline, according to the magazine, would be to “blame other parties for the incident.”
Earlier on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an attack on Nord Stream was “in no one’s interest,” but that it also represented a “significant opportunity” for Europe to abandon Russian natural gas in favor of alternative energy supplies, presumably such as U.S. LNG, and “accelerate the transition to renewables” in order to fight climate change.
Kremlin’s Comments on Nord Stream Damage
The Nord Stream pipelines may have been damaged in an act of sabotage, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov suggested when asked about the possible reasons for sudden pressure loss in three of the Baltic Sea gas network’s lines.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Peskov commented on a statement made by Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, which said three offshore lines of the Nord Stream pipeline system sustained “unprecedented” damage in just one day.
“No option can be ruled out right now,” Peskov said when asked if the damage may have been the result of sabotage. He added that Moscow is very concerned about the situation, and called for an immediate and thorough investigation into the incident, which has implications for energy security on the “entire continent.”
Pressure in line A of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was pumped with gas but had yet to go into operation, suddenly dropped overnight between Sunday and Monday. Shortly after that, on Monday afternoon, both of Nord Stream 1’s pipelines also suffered a sharp loss of pressure.
Sweden and Denmark’s coastguards have since reported gas leaks off the coast of Bornholm island in the Baltic Sea – one in the Swedish economic zone and one in the Danish zone – and closed off the area to maritime traffic.
According to a report from the Tagesspiegel newspaper on Tuesday, Berlin believes the sudden pressure drop in three gas pipelines at the same time could not be a coincidence and is likely a “targeted attack” from either Ukraine or Russia. The outlet explained that a deliberate attack on the pipeline could only have been carried out using special forces, navy divers or a submarine.
Nord Stream 1 was completed in 2011. Construction work on Nord Stream 2 (NS2) began in 2018, and suffered delays due to political pressure and sanctions from the U.S. NS2 was finished and pressurized in September 2021. However, two days prior to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, the German government put its certification on indefinite hold, and has categorically rejected any suggestion from Moscow – or domestically – to unblock the pipeline.
U.S. Praised For Nord Stream Explosion
While the U.S., Russia and most European governments reserved judgment as to who might be behind Monday’s explosion that damaged both Nord Stream pipelines and cut off Germany from Russian gas, former Polish minister and member of the European Parliament Radoslaw Sikorski had no such qualms.
“Thank you USA,” Sikorski tweeted on Tuesday, alongside a photo of the massive gas leak in the waters of the Baltic Sea. Both pipelines were severely damaged off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm, in what everyone is now calling a deliberate act.
Sikorski later tweeted, in Polish, that damage to Nord Stream means that Russia will have to “talk to the countries controlling the Brotherhood and Yamal gas pipelines, Ukraine and Poland” if it wishes to continue delivering gas to Europe. “Good work,” he concluded.
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 lost all pressure on Monday, after what the Swedish and Danish authorities later said were a series of undersea explosions. The first pipeline was operating at reduced capacity after what Russia said were technical difficulties, while the second was fully pressurized but not operational, due to German refusal to certify it.
Russian Spokeswoman’s Comment
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wondered if Sikorsky’s tweet amounted to an “official statement that this was a terrorist attack.”
Moscow’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, thanked Sikorski for “making it crystal clear who stands behind this terrorist-style targeting of civilian infrastructure!”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki did not go quite as far as Sikorski, but chose to describe the Nord Stream incident as “an act of sabotage, related to the next step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine.”
Not just any Member of European Parliament, Sikorski is a former UK citizen and a fellow at numerous U.S. and NATO think-tanks, as well as Poland’s former defense (2005-2007) and foreign minister (2007-2014). In October 2014, he was caught fabricating a claim about Russian President Vladimir Putin wanting to partition Ukraine with Warsaw, and was forced to recant.
While Sikorski thanked the U.S. for the Nord Stream sabotage, Kiev blamed Russia. President Vladimir Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podoliak called it “a terrorist attack planned by Russia and an act of aggression towards EU,” arguing the best response would be sending German tanks to the Ukrainian army.
More Americans Oppose Sending Military Aid to Ukraine Without Diplomatic Efforts, Finds Poll
Nearly half of Americans (47%) are against sending military aid to Ukraine if the U.S. is not involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, a new poll conducted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft revealed Tuesday.
About 40% expressed their support for providing weapons to Kiev regardless of the negotiation process.
Roughly 58% say they would oppose the U.S. providing military aid to Ukraine at current levels if their own country suffers higher gas prices and a higher cost of goods.
The poll also revealed that 57% of likely voters support the U.S. pursuing diplomatic negotiations as soon as possible to end the conflict, while only 32% oppose such efforts.
“Americans recognize what many in Washington don’t: Russia’s war in Ukraine is more likely to end at the negotiating table than on the battlefield. And there is a brewing skepticism of Washington’s approach to this war, which has been heavy on tough talk and military aid, but light on diplomatic strategy and engagement,” executive vice president at the Quincy Institute Trita Parsi was quoted as saying in the release.
Six percent of those surveyed further recognized that Russia’s special military operation is among the top issues the U.S. is currently facing. Other concerns included inflation, gun violence and the state of the American economy.
The survey was conducted from September 16 to 19, and included responses from 1,215 voters nationwide. The margin of error is three percentage points.