LONDON: Russian-installed officials in occupied regions of Ukraine reported huge majorities on Tuesday (Sep 27) in favour of becoming part of Russia after five days of voting in so-called referendums that Kyiv and the West denounced as a sham.
Hastily arranged votes had taken place in four areas – the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and to the south Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – that make up about 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory.
Luhansk authorities said 98.5 per cent of people there had voted to join Russia, based on 69 per cent of ballots counted. In Zaporizhzhia, a Russian-appointed official put the figure at 93.1 per cent with the count now completed. while in Kherson the “yes” vote was running at more than 87 per cent, according to the head of the voting committee.
Russia’s Tass news agency said 93.95 per cent in Donetsk region had voted in favour, with nearly 32 per cent of the ballots counted.
Within the occupied territories, Russian-installed officials took ballot boxes from house to house in what Ukraine and the West said was an illegitimate, coercive exercise to create a legal pretext for Russia to annex the four regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could then portray any Ukrainian attempt to recapture them as an attack on Russia itself. He said last week he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of Russia.
Displaced people from the four regions were able to cast votes in Russia, where state news agency RIA said early counts showed numbers in excess of 96 per cent in favour of coming under Moscow’s rule.
Ukraine has repeatedly warned that Russian annexation of territories would destroy any chance of peace talks, seven months after Russia invaded its neighbour. It says Ukrainians who helped Russia organise the votes will face treason charges.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the European Union to impose further economic sanctions on Russia to punish it for staging the votes, which he said would not change Ukraine’s actions on the battlefield.