Yesterday, Allahpundit examined Russia’s leaked plan to “annex” some territory in eastern Ukraine by staging supposed “referendums” to simply declare the region to be part of the Russian Federation. Even if we were to take this obvious bit of malarkey seriously, it would require asking the people of Luhansk and Donetsk to go set up polling stations and convince their citizens to show up and cast ballots in the middle of a hot war. Of course, there won’t actually be a legitimate vote if Russia goes through with it, but they’ll rely on the fog of war to mask whatever really happens and simply announce the desired outcome shortly thereafter. But simply saying you’ve “annexed” some new land doesn’t resolve the entire situation overnight. So what will happen next if we receive this sort of announcement from Moscow later this week? (Associated Press)
Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Monday that the U.S. believes the Kremlin plans to annex much of eastern Ukraine and recognize the southern city of Kherson as an independent republic. Neither move would be recognized by the United States or its allies, he said.
Russia is planning to hold sham referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the Donbas that would “try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy” and attach the entities to Russia, Carpenter said. He also said there were signs that Russia would engineer an independence vote in Kherson.
Mayors and local legislators there have been abducted, internet and cellphone service has been severed and a Russian school curriculum will soon be imposed, Carpenter said. Ukraine’s government says Russia has introduced its ruble as currency there.
A lot of this depends on how well Russia can actually lock down the Donbas region via its army wiping out the Ukrainian resistance, assuming there’s enough juice left in the army to do it at all. Simply declaring that those areas are either “part of Russia” now or “independent” satellite states of the Russian Federation doesn’t really mean anything if you can’t control the territory and the people physically.
Further, as already noted, neither the United States nor any of our allies are going to officially recognize the Donbas region as being part of Russia. China might, and perhaps North Korea and Iran, but not many others. But does that really matter in the end? We will still recognize Ukraine as a nation and its rightful government if Zelensky and his Parliament retain control of the capital and the western regions. What real-world impact would it have if we recognize Ukraine but don’t recognize its eastern borders?
Further, once the declaration is made, what happens after that? As Allahpundit already brought up, once Russia declares Luhansk and Donetsk to be “part of Russia,” any attacks on the Russian troops there by Ukrainian forces or civilian insurrection groups could be declared “an invasion of Russian territory” by the Madman of Moscow, assuming he pulls through his cancer surgery in one piece. That could justify (at least in Putin’s mind) the use of WMDs or other more aggressive maneuvers. Would such annexations and escalations finally comprise a “red line” that Russia would have crossed and result in an escalation of the war? After all, Putin still wouldn’t have attacked a NATO ally and he hasn’t lit off any nukes or biological weapons that we know of.
Even if nobody recognizes the Donbas as part of Russia, we have already set a sort of precedent in the west for what Putin is doing. When he marched in and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2015, nobody lifted a finger to stop him. And recognized or not, Russia has been using that land as its own ever since. In the end, unless the Russian forces can be driven out of the Donbas region, none of this may really matter. Whoever holds the land pretty much makes the rules. And if Ukraine can’t prevent the Russian army from taking and holding their territory, the question of who owns or recognizes which borders may end up being moot.