Vladimir Putin appeared poised to go all-in on his war in Ukraine today, sparking fears of an escalation in fighting that could drag in NATO and spark World War Three.
In a day of rapid-fire developments, Kremlin stooges in Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions simultaneously announced referendums on becoming part of Russia between September 23 and 27, with the sham votes expected to easily pass.
Dmitry Medvedev, a staunch Putin ally, then vowed ‘all forces of self-defence’ will be used to protect what he called ‘Russian territory’ – teeing up a new phase in the conflict involving weapons and tactics the Kremlin has so-far held in reserve.
Underlining that point, Moscow’s rubber-stamp parliament passed new laws paving the war for Putin to end his ‘special military operation’ and officially declare a war, allowing him to mobilise Russia’s massive population into the army.
It comes after Ukraine humiliatingly routed Putin’s forces to the east of Kharkiv and recaptured a swathe of territory, with the despot’s allies, propagandists and political hardliners calling for an escalation amid calls for the president to resign.
Putin was said to be preparing an address to the nation tonight, Russia’s national broadcaster reported, without giving any further details.
The White House this afternoon called the referendums ‘an affront to principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity’ and warned the US would never recognise Russia’s claims to any annexed parts of Ukraine.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned the sham votes were yet another ‘escalation in Putin’s war’.
Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor of Germany, was also among the first Western leaders to react – saying the referendums are a ‘sham’ that must be rejected by world powers.