Ukraine is hitting Russia hard in regions that Moscow wants to annex

Kiev, Ukraine

As Vladimir Putin lost more Ukrainian territory he wanted to annex, his government on Tuesday sought to complete the process of claiming four Ukrainian regions, none of which is fully controlled by Russia.

Russia’s rubber-stamp legislature’s upper house, the Federation Council, on Tuesday unanimously approved a decision to annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, in defiance of international law and a day after the lower house did the same. President Putin was expected to sign the legislation later, his spokesman said.

Kiev’s army, however, has continued to advance in several areas that Russia now claims, challenging whether the Kremlin can hold parts of those territories it currently controls, as well as what Russia would consider its new borders after annexation. . Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Moscow should “continue to consult” with local residents before imposing its borders.

It is not clear how Russia plans to claim the four regions for its own, at least in the short term. Peskov hinted last week that Russia will try to retake the territory later, a campaign that will likely involve 300,000 reservists being called up as part of a “partial mobilization” ordered by Putin last month.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that more than 200,000 people had joined the country’s army after the announcement, sparking protests and hundreds of thousands of people – mostly men of fighting age – fleeing to neighboring countries.

For now, Ukrainian forces are continuing to push forward with their surprisingly successful counteroffensive, a Ukrainian official said Tuesday, seeing more areas being liberated “every day.”

On Sunday, Kyiv seized control of Lyman, a key logistics railway in Donetsk used by the Russian military to move troops and supplies west and south. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it risked surrendering Lyman or surrounding its troops there, allowing Ukrainian forces to use the city as a staging ground to push troops further east.

Lyman’s victory on Monday was followed by Ukrainian gains in Luhansk and a successful push south towards Kherson overnight Monday into Tuesday, with Kiev retaking the cities of Davydiv Brid and Velyka Oleksandrivka.

“Ukrainian marines head to Black Sea with confidence,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted on Tuesday as it announced the Kherson win.

Donetsk and Luhansk are both in eastern Ukraine, and the Moscow-backed republic has been battling the fugitives in each region since 2014. Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are in southern Ukraine and were occupied by Russian forces shortly after the invasion began at the end of February.

Kyiv’s recent success has not been lost on those in the Kremlin. Pro-Russian bloggers and propagandists have been unusually critical of the war effort in recent days. Although there was no vote against the annexation in parliament, one senator expressed concern on Tuesday that Russia would absorb “territory occupied by the armed forces of another country”.

With the defeats piling up, it looks like changes are on the way for the Russian war machine. Records show the Kremlin has removed Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov as head of the Western Military District, one of the country’s five military districts and a key player in the war in Ukraine.

US officials have expressed concern that Putin could escalate the conflict in response to Ukraine’s battlefield success. Washington is considering how to respond to a number of potential scenarios, including Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons, according to three sources briefed on the latest intelligence. Officials warn that the US has not detected preparations for a nuclear attack.

The US and many of the world’s developed democracies have consistently expressed strong opposition to the entire annexation process, including the so-called referendums in the four regions that Russia is trying to annex. Those organized contests, which supposedly showed that the majority of people living there wanted to join Russia, were widely publicized as a farce that did not meet internationally accepted standards of free and fair elections. Reports on the ground suggested that the vote was essentially and literally done at gunpoint.

A rocket launcher is seen on the front line in the Donetsk region on Monday.

The result was followed by Putin’s fiery speech in the Kremlin’s St. George Hall on Friday. In the speech, Putin announced that the regions would be annexed and the millions of people living there would become Russian citizens “forever”. On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister said residents would have a month to change their citizenship.

The members of the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – and the European Union responded by saying that they would never accept the Kremlin’s sovereignty over the regions and that they would “impose more economic costs on Russia”. “.

Western leaders have continued to announce new sanctions against Putin’s regime in recent days. The UK government on Tuesday sanctioned the leader of the Kherson region for “destabilizing Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine”.