Any such act from the part of the Kremlin has all the potential to send the war into a darker path, with the threat of nuclear strikes looming in the background.
Pro-Russian Ukrainian officials are conducting sham referenda in the occupied provinces of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Their goal is to announce their secession from Ukraine and their desire to be annexed by Russia.
Ukraine, the United States, and much of the world have stated or indicated that they wouldn’t accept the results of referenda that are taking place under duress and thus are unreflective of the true desires of the local populations.
However, Moscow proceeds and Putin is scheduled to address the Russian Duma on Friday with “a realistic possibility” that he is doing so to announce the accession of these occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia, according to the British Military Intelligence.
The referenda are scheduled to end today.
A decision to annex the occupied provinces, which, by the way, are still contested and not completely under Russian control, would give Putin a much-needed victory for his special military operation. More than seven months into the war, and the Russian leader has very little to show for the incredible casualties in men and weapon systems that the Russian military has suffered in Ukraine.
“This aspiration will likely be undermined by the increasing domestic awareness of Russia’s recent battlefield sets-backs and significant unease about the partial mobilisation announced last week,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the war.
It remains to be seen not just whether the Russian leader decides to annex the occupied territories but also to what extent he will go to defend them from the Ukrainian counteroffensives.
If Putin decides that any annexed Ukrainian land is Russia, then he can make the argument that they are part of the “homeland” and thus a no-go for Ukrainian military action. From the start of the war, he has indicated that any attack on Russia would trigger a different response from Russia, essentially threatening with a nuclear strike.
The Russian Casualties
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Tuesday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 57,750 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 261 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 224 attack and transport helicopters, 2,306 tanks, 1,378 artillery pieces, 4,881 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 331 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 15 boats and cutters, 3,730 vehicles and fuel tanks, 175 anti-aircraft batteries, 977 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 131 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 241 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.