The Revanchist’s Folly

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Russia plans to hold elections in the occupied Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and others as early as September, paving the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex those regions in the same way he seized Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014.

Of course, Russian officials deny they covet these territories. “The determination of the future destiny of those people is in their hands,” a Kremlin spokesman told Bloomberg. “If they are going to make any referendums, it will be their decision.”

But Putin is clearly planning on annexing territories that Ukrainians have failed to reconquer since Russia invaded the country in late February.

Before the war caused millions across the country to leave their homes, more than 2.5 million people lived in the regions. Russian hardliners don’t view their Ukrainian citizenship as legitimate. “The so-called ‘party of war’ believes that Russia should annex these territories,” that they are “part of Russia historically and so it [sic] must be returned,” said Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya in an interview with the Washington Post. “For them, it’s inevitable.”

Russia is already using a mix of “terror, state propaganda, handouts and promises to rebuild destroyed areas” to drum up loyalty, she added, while detaining or killing local politicians, activists and journalists who might resist their efforts.

Such a move as elections would potentially bolster Putin’s revanchist claims on Ukrainian soil even as the Russian military fails to achieve a decisive victory and continues to lose significant personnel and equipment, wrote Agence France-Presse, a testament to Ukrainian resolve, Western military support, and poor Russian planning and execution.

It would also likely make it much harder for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to agree to any peace deal in the future, added Axios, as Russia would insist that the conquered land was Russian sovereign territory. Conversely, if Putin annexed the regions and then lost them to a Ukrainian counteroffensive, he could suffer a stinging embarrassment.

Diplomats in Syria, a Russian ally, recently said they would recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, effectively saying they have the freedom to join the Russian Federation if they so choose, the Associated Press reported. In 2015 Russia first interceded with military assistance to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quash rebels in the Syrian Civil War.

The president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, despite being another Russian ally, refused to recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as “People’s Republics,” however, because he said they were “quasi-states” on Ukrainian occupied territory, noted Ukrainska Pravda via Yahoo! News.

After all, Kazakhstan is another former Soviet republic that Putin might set his eyes on one day.

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