WASHINGTON (AA) – The US said Tuesday it will “never” recognize the results of “sham” referendums in Ukraine planned by Russia and its proxies, maintaining that the forthcoming polls are acts of desperation.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Russia is “rushing” to hold the polls after it was routed in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region following defeats near the capital of Kyiv.
“These referenda are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system and lie at the heart of the United Nations Charter,” he told reporters at the White House as world leaders convened at the UN headquarters in New York.
“We know that these referenda will be manipulated. We know that Russia will use the sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories either now or in the future. Let me be clear: If this does transpire, and obviously it’s not a done deal yet, but if this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims,” he added.
Russian-backed representatives of at least four regions in Ukraine announced earlier Tuesday that they will hold referendums on joining Russia in the coming days. Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions will hold referendums on joining Russia on Sept. 23-27, according to the Russian-backed regional proxies.
Ukraine has vowed to press its counteroffensive against Russia whether or not the votes go ahead with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying they “will not change anything.”
“Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilization’. Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land,” he said on Twitter. “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.”
Kuleba was referring to speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for a broad call-up to bolster Russian forces. Putin has previously referred to the war as a “special military operation,” and stopped short of declaring a full-on “war.” Such a declaration would allow him to institute a draft and draw on military reserves.
Putin “may be resorting to partial more mobilization forcing even more rush Russians to go fight is brutal war in Ukraine, in part because they simply need more personnel and manpower given the success that Ukraine has had on the battlefield,” said Sullivan.
“Russia is scraping for personnel to throw into this fight. These are not the actions of a confident country. These are not acts of strength, quite the opposite,” he added.
In a potential sign that a mobilization could be in the offing, Russian lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday to toughen punishments for soldiers for wartime acts, including desertion and surrender.
Under the amendments endorsed by the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, there will be a 10-year prison sentence for desertion, failure to report for military service, and surrender. Looting will be punishable by 15 years in prison, while destruction of weapons carries a maximum term of five years.
The amendments also introduce the concepts of mobilization, martial law, wartime, and armed conflict that were previously not mentioned in the Russian Criminal Code.