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Pro-Moscow Officials in Occupied Ukraine Urge Referendums to Join Russia

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Pro-Moscow Officials in Occupied Ukraine Urge Referendums to Join Russia
Authorities in separatist- and Russia-occupied regions of Ukraine requested Tuesday to stage referendums on formally joining Russia as Moscow’s forces face continued setbacks in their nearly seven-month war.

The Moscow-appointed head of the southern Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said that “the leadership of the Kherson region administration decided to prepare and hold a referendum” following a public appeal.

“We have set a course for reunification, a return to Russia. And we will not turn away from it,” Saldo added in a video message.

The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Denis Pushilin said Tuesday that a vote on joining Russia was overdue.

“I think that people have long been waiting for a referendum here and it will probably be a political move that will help ensure the safety of civilians,” Russian news agencies quoted him telling state television. 

The DNR and the neighboring Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) will both hold their referendums on Sept. 23-27, officials there said.

In the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia region, the local “We are together with Russia” public movement appealed to the region’s pro-Moscow leader Yevgeny Balitsky to request a referendum.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the possible referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions “essential,” saying they would allow Moscow to utilize its full military capability in the region.

“Encroachment onto the territory of Russia is a crime which allows you to use all self-defense forces,” Medvedev, who is now the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said Moscow would support the separatist republics if their residents voted in favor of joining Russia.

Large parts of the industrial Donbas area have been controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, after nationwide demonstrations ousted Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president.

Russia at the time annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine with a vote that was criticized by Kyiv and the West, which imposed sanctions in response.

Both Kyiv and its allies in the West have likewise said they will not recognize the results of any new referendums in separatist- or Russia-controlled regions.

AFP contributed reporting.

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