By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Western leaders have rejected plans by authorities in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine to hold referendums in the coming days on joining the territories to Russia.
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington rejected any such referendums “unequivocally,” while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron both used the word “sham” to describe the referendums that pro-Moscow separatists said would be held starting on September 23 in four territories occupied by Russia.
“This has no legal standing,” Macron said on September 20 before addressing the UN General Assembly in New York. “The very idea of organizing referendums in territories that have experienced war…is the sign of cynicism.”
Russian news agencies reported earlier on September 20 that the so-called public council in Ukraine’s Kherson region — large parts of which have been under Moscow’s military control since March — urged the Russian-imposed authorities to “immediately” hold a vote on the region joining the Russian Federation.
Moscow had been moving ahead with plans to hold referendums on joining Russia in other occupied regions, including Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhya.
“It is very, very clear that these sham referendums cannot be accepted and are not covered by international law,” Scholz told reporters as he attended the UN General Assembly.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also denounced Russia’s planned referendums, saying Canada would never recognize them.
“This is a blatant violation of international law. It is a further escalation of war. And it is unacceptable,” he said on Twitter.
The European Union strongly condemned the planned referendums and threatened additional sanctions.
“Russia, its political leadership, and all those involved in these ‘referenda’ and other violations of international law in Ukraine will be held accountable, and additional restrictive measures against Russia would be considered,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
He said the votes cannot be considered “as the free expression of the will of the people” in these regions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed Western the condemnation of the referendums.
“I thank all the friends and partners of Ukraine for their massive and firm condemnation of Russia’s intentions to organize yet more pseudo-referendums,” he said in his nightly video address.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier that the referendums will “not change anything,” adding on Twitter that “Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has “every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.”
Russia officially recognized the separatists-controlled territories — called the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic by Moscow and the separatists — as independent states just days before starting its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently the deputy chief of Russia’s Security Council, wrote on Telegram on September 20 that the referendums on Ukraine’s occupied territories are “important” to “reinstate the historic justice.”
“After [the referendums] are conducted and the new territories become part of Russia, the geopolitical transformation in the world will take on an irreversible character,” Medvedev wrote, adding that attempts to encroach Russia’s territory is a crime and Russia could use “all means of self-defense” after the Ukrainian territories become part of Russia.
Denis Pushilin, a Moscow-backed separatist leader in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, said the vote will “restore historic justice” to the territory’s “long-suffering people” who have “earned the right to be part of the great country that they always considered their motherland.”