Day 216 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Fighting Continues on the Last Day of “Referendums” in Occupied Regions
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Fighting on the last day of the referendums in the occupied Ukrainian regions
Fighting accompanied the last day of so-called “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. Moscow is expected to announce the results today.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced in his late video address that Kyiv is preparing a project for a Special International Tribunal for Russian war crimes.
Today is the last day of so-called "referendums" in the Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, which make up about 15 percent of Ukraine. None of the regions are fully under Moscow's control. The results will probably be announced today, and tomorrow the State Duma will move on to discussing the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian territories, reports RIA Novosti. On Friday, President Vladimir Putin is expected to make an official speech and sign an annex on the accession of the regions. Kyiv and the West dismissed the polls as a fraud and said they would not recognize the results.
Clashes are reported by news agencies in the Kharkiv region, the focus of the Ukrainian counteroffensive this month. Ukrainian forces continue to attempt to disable four bridges and thus cut off the Russian army's supply lines to the south. The Southern Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported early this morning that the counteroffensive in Kherson resulted in enemy losses of six tanks, five howitzers, three anti-aircraft guns and 14 armored vehicles. 77 servicemen died.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Donetsk region in the east remains his country's top strategic priority. In his late video address, he also announced that Kyiv is preparing a project for a Special International Tribunal for Russian war crimes. The project was presented to the ambassadors of 30 partner countries:
"The difficulty in prosecuting Russia for this crime is that the existing international legal instruments are not sufficient. That is why it is necessary to create a special international tribunal. And we are working on this project with meticulous attention to detail. I have no doubt that this court will be established. And all those who started the criminal war against Ukraine and freedom in Europe will be brought to justice."
According to Russian opposition media, more than 260,000 men have left Russia since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization. The queues in the direction of Georgia have reached over 3,000 cars and there was a two-day wait to cross the border, Russian state media inform.
Authorities in Finland reported that 17,000 Russians entered the country over the weekend - twice as many as the previous weekend. The Kremlin has admitted that mistakes are being made in the mobilization, including handing out call-up orders to men with no military experience or with a social status that exempts them from military service.
Edward Snowden became a Russian citizen by decree of Putin, the fugitive from the CIA is not subject to mobilization
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to the former CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) operative Edward Snowden from the United States, Interfax reported. After the document was announced, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia of the late Vladimir Zhirinovsky announced that it was ready to make the newly admitted citizen a party member.
The text of the decree is published on the official internet portal for legal information. It contains a list of persons who receive Russian citizenship. Among them is "Edward Joseph Snowden, born June 21, 1983 in the United States of America."
In 2013, Snowden leaked information to the media about US intelligence agencies' worldwide surveillance programs. The publications caused a wide resonance. In the States, he was accused in absentia of espionage and theft of state property. Snowden first fled the US to Hong Kong and then to Russia.
Snowden's acceptance of Russian citizenship, given his age, raised the question of whether he could now be mobilized. He is not subject to conscription under the partial mobilization announced in the Russian Federation, his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Interfax.
"There is a procedure established by the legislation of the Russian Federation regarding persons who are subject to conscription in connection with partial mobilization. Since Eduard has not served in the Russian army, has no practice and experience in military service, he is not subject to mobilization," the lawyer said in response to a question from Interfax.
Kucherena also added that the American's wife will also request Russian citizenship, and their son is already Russian by birth.
As for Snowden's reaction, Kucherena stated: "Of course, Edward is grateful to Russia that it did not turn its back on him at a difficult time for him and is glad that he became a Russian citizen."
In response to the question of why the process of obtaining a Russian passport took so long, the lawyer noted: "He received citizenship on a general basis, fulfilling all the conditions of the legislation of the Russian Federation on citizenship."
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later explained that the former CIA officer had been granted a Russian passport at his express request. The American applied for citizenship in early November 2020, having been granted permanent residency a few weeks earlier.
On February 15 of this year, just 9 days before Russia invaded Ukraine, the former US intelligence officer commented on his Twitter profile about the growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“If there's an invasion tomorrow, dunk on me because I have been spectacularly wrong.
But remember, too that the source of my skepticism is that the US IC has (again) been making truly spectacular claims without presenting any evidence -- because you did not require it of them” - Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 15, 2022
Meanwhile, after the disclosure of Snowden's citizenship document, the LDPR of the late Vladimir Zhirinovsky showed interest in it. The party organized the "Zhirinovsky set" in memory of its late leader and for this reason, according to the spokesman of the LDPR, Alexander Dupin, "if the citizen of Russia Mr. Snowden requests to become the holder of the second most important document after the passport - a party ticket, we expect his application and we will necessarily consider it".
Putin may announce the annexation of the occupied territories of Ukraine on September 30
The President of the Russian Federation will address both houses of the Russian Parliament on Friday, September 30. According to British intelligence, "there is a real possibility" that during this address, Vladimir Putin will officially announce the accession of the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The referendums currently taking place in the Donbas and southern Ukraine at Russian gunpoint are due to end today, September 27.
Voting in the so-called “referendums” on joining Russia, organized by Moscow, began last week in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces in the east and southeast. They represent about 15% of the territory of Ukraine. The local population is prohibited from leaving their locations until the four-day voting is over. Armed soldiers entered homes to "call" for voting, and there were threats of dismissal from work if people refused, according to witnesses.
Russia's leaders almost certainly hope that any announcement of accession will be taken as a justification for a "special military operation", as Putin calls the war in Ukraine, and will strengthen support for the war among "patriotic" forces - the British Ministry of Defense also writes, but admits that this support could be undermined by growing discontent over Russia's failures on the front and "considerable anxiety" over the announced mobilization.
A day earlier, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked about Putin's September 30 address, said he could not confirm the reported information.
Southern Ukraine and Donbas may become "Crimean Federal District" after "referendums"
The four regions of Ukraine, in which "referendums" are being held to join Russia, may be united in a new administrative unit - the "Crimean Federal District".
This was reported by sources in the Russian parliament and close to the Crimean government for Vedomosti. According to the same publication, it is possible that the fired head of the Russian space agency "Roscosmos" Dmitry Rogozin, who lost his post a few months ago, will become the authorized representative of the government in the new "district".
The plans are supposed to come into force after the completion of the "referendums. Already at the time of Rogozin's removal, there was talk of the possibility of him becoming a special representative of the president for a future (then unnamed) federal district.
It is not clear whether this "federal district" will be within the borders of the territories controlled by Russia and the separatists in Donbas, or whether Russia will perceive the internal borders of the four administrative Ukrainian regions as its own.
The Crimean Federal District first appeared after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula - also by "referendum" - in 2014. It was subsequently included in the Southern Federal District.
However, according to the interlocutors, the need to create a separate federal district (of which there are only eight in the whole of Russia) stems from the "complex situation" surrounding the "referendums", which for now do not stop Ukraine's counteroffensive in the northeast and south in an attempt to regain the occupied territories. The sources of "Vedomosti" also explain that a person with "political weight" is needed for the position.
The West demanded an explanation from Serbia about the foreign policy "consultation" with Russia
The United States has demanded an explanation from Serbia about the agreement signed with Russia on the foreign policy "consultation" settlement, and the European Union has condemned the decision to take such action at the current moment of escalation over the war in Ukraine.
Belgrade insists that the document, signed by foreign ministers Nikola Selakovic and Sergey Lavrov, has only bilateral points and nothing about security, and that criticism of it is an attempt to attack Serbia.
It foresees consultations of foreign ministers in the next two years, and according to the minister, the decision was "technical" (such a measure has been applied since 1996). According to Selakovic, the government is in a position to reject such a plan, but he does not understand why this is necessary - there is nothing controversial in the document.
The agreement was signed at the end of last week at the UN General Assembly and became the occasion for the reaction of MEPs who reminded Serbia that it is better to join the sanctions against Russia because of the war in Ukraine than to deepen ties with Russia.
“Socialists and Democrats”, the second-largest group in the European Parliament, warned that accession talks could not go ahead with Belgrade if the restrictions were not imposed.
"This is not the time for strengthening ties with Russia," said the head of the European Union mission in Serbia, Emanuele Giaufret. According to him, the document is contrary to the guidelines of the European Union on the matter. "We should not forget that Russia has been waging aggression against Ukraine for seven months now and is strengthening the campaign through the mobilization of 300,000 people." In his words, Serbia is not helped by the fact that it does not recognize the "referendums" in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
"At this point, nobody should be signing anything with Russia," said US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill after participating in a regional forum. According to him, the talks between the delegations of the USA and Serbia last week were "excellent". What exactly the agreement with Russia implies, however, is unknown, since the document is not public, the ambassador continues. "It's hard for us to understand, but we want an explanation of what it's about."
Why is it a problem for the West?
In theory, Serbia is within its rights to sign documents with Russia, which it considers a key partner alongside China; Belgrade defends its ties with Moscow and Beijing to the West and often points out that they are important in a number of sectors (this is especially true of China).
At the same time, Serbia is obliged to coordinate its foreign policy with the European Union during the accession process. The country's leadership assures that this can happen in principle.
Moscow and Beijing are important allies for Belgrade on the Kosovo issue against Pristina's recognition (Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 and is recognized by most EU countries, but Serbia still considers it a province).
Serbia has repeatedly expressed its support for Ukraine's territorial integrity, and Selakovic assured on Sunday that he would not recognize the results of the "referendums" in Donbas and the south of the country. However, the country is trying to balance relations with Russia and the West, and Ivana Stradner, an adviser at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, asked ironically on Twitter: "Did they tell (Russia) about the exercise with NATO next week?"
Prof. Wolfgang Ischinger: Whoever wants peace, deliver weapons to Ukraine now
“Russia's military actions against Ukraine have been going on for almost seven months now. Despite the impressive amount of territory that Ukraine has regained in recent weeks, there is no end in sight. Russia still has various political and military - including nuclear - capabilities and reserves. So far, Ukraine has managed to regain only a small part of the territory in the eastern and southern parts of the country.
Word in Kyiv is that the next 90 days will be decisive. But what if the mutual destruction drags on into next year?
Germany has no doubts: the sooner a truce is reached, or even better - a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the better - at least if Ukraine does not cede any territories. Every week counts: it is about the lives and deaths of soldiers and civilians in Ukraine, but also about the serious negative economic and energy consequences of this conflict for the whole of Europe, including us in Germany.
But whoever wants peace soon must supply Ukraine with as many weapons as possible - including heavy military equipment and weapons. And besides, the weapons should be delivered now, not next year! We should not fear nuclear threats.
But perhaps the US has a slightly different view of the urgency of ending the conflict. The US is not in danger of an energy crisis. From the US perspective, the long-term weakening of Russia is an important strategic goal that will be more easily achieved in a longer conflict. Therefore, the interests of Germany (and therefore Europe as a whole) and the US are not necessarily aligned in this case.
In any case, Berlin must prepare well diplomatically and politically for a possible cessation of hostilities. Of course, we do not want to prescribe to Ukraine what military objectives at what cost, with what sacrifices and for how long it should pursue. But this does not mean that we should not prepare for negotiations now, so that we can put our interests properly on the agenda.
Why is this diplomatic preparation so important? When the war in Bosnia came to an end in 1995, we members of the diplomatic delegation traveled to Dayton without any preliminary texts on the individual topics of the negotiations. On the other hand, the picture for the US was completely different: with carefully prepared and legally verified texts in hand, the US masterfully dominated the negotiations and fully realized all its interests, leaving Russian and European interests aside. Below I will indicate as an example some points of the possible negotiations on Ukraine, on which Berlin and the entire EU should develop clear positions in advance:
1. Suppose a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine is envisaged without, for example, returning Crimea to Ukraine. Then we have to solve the following question. Will we advocate for such a truce, along with the Crimea amendment, to be enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution and thereby incorporated into international law? And what will happen if Russia does not agree to this in the Security Council?
2. Suppose a truce becomes possible in the short term. From Germany's point of view, who - apart from the UN - will have to mediate? Maybe Erdogan? Who will have to monitor the observance of the truce in this case? Will we campaign for the OSCE as such an observer?
3. Suppose Russia asks for the lifting of Western sanctions as compensation for the ceasefire. Would we accept the lifting of sanctions only as part of a comprehensive peace agreement, or would we make concessions?
4. Suppose Ukraine demands significant reparations from Russia. Would we support this request by tying the lifting of sanctions to Russia's recognition of these reparations? Would we make such reparations binding under international law?
5. Suppose Ukraine requests the creation of an extraordinary tribunal to investigate the circumstances of the February 24 decision - in addition to the International Criminal Court. Will we and our EU partners join this demand? (I hope so!).
I would advise the federal government to consider any further steps with the utmost caution, but not to delude itself. It is also important not only to decide on further support measures and arms supplies to Ukraine, but also to optimally prepare the future peace agreement.”
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