NATO has accused Russia of escalating its war with Ukraine after allies in the occupied Kremlin announced a referendum to join Russia and the country’s parliament approved a law opening the way to military mobilization. .
The Kremlin has so far resisted voting this week in four regions of Ukraine controlled by the Russian government, which the West and Kyiv were quick to denounce as a hoax.
Russia’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday passed a law tightening penalties for desertion and draft evasion during mobilization. This indicates a strengthening of the Russian government’s posture.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has denounced the referendum as “further escalation” of the war. he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has fallen behind after losing thousands of square kilometers of territory to Ukrainian forces this month, fueling pro-war calls for full-scale annexation and mobilization.
Referendums will take place between September 23 and 27 and will take place in two regions, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, which have been ruled by Russian-backed strongmen since leaving Kyiv in 2014. be done.
Voting will also take place in parts of Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblast. These are two of his areas in the south that Russian forces seized when they invaded Ukraine this year, areas where Moscow’s grip on power remains precarious.
The vote follows a 2014 referendum in Crimea on Russia’s membership, which was not widely recognized internationally.
Western analysts have suggested that annexing more territory could allow Moscow to claim that NATO’s arms supply to Ukraine amounted to an attack on Russia itself.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, “Intrusion into Russian territory is a crime against which all means of self-defense can be used. “This is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and the West.” , added that the vote would “restore historical justice” and “completely change the course of decades of Russian development.”
Mikhail Podlyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, called on the international community to respond to the plan “by increasing arms aid and introducing new economic sectoral sanctions against Russia.”
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Washington would “unequivocally” reject any further Russian attempts to annex occupied territories in Ukraine. “We will never recognize this territory as anything other than part of Ukraine,” he added.
Sullivan said the planned referendum was a sign of Russia’s weakening, along with reports that it could drive mass mobilization. “This is an act of a country that has experienced setbacks militarily and diplomatically,” he said.
A law passed by the Russian House of Representatives on Tuesday criminalizes desertion and other acts “during periods of martial law, armed conflict, or mobilization.”
So far, Russia has extended the seven-month period to Invasion of Ukraine It’s not a war, it’s a “special military operation”. It has used contract soldiers and mercenaries without officially deploying conscription units or mobilizing the wider population into war.
The new law will allow authorities to punish acts such as desertion not only after an explicit declaration of war, but also during “wartime” or “mobilization” periods. Avoiding conscription and desertion carries a penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison.
The bill’s authors said such changes to the penal code would not equate to mobilization itself.
Ivan Pavlov, a prominent lawyer who defended Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote that “the Duma considered several changes to the Criminal Code at breakneck speed and adopted them in their final form.” “Maybe there will be a big announcement soon…[and]We could call war war. ”
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in New York