Russian President Vladimir Putin defied a chorus of warnings from foreign leaders on Wednesday as he announced an escalation of the war in Ukraine and said the Kremlin would support referendums in occupied territories.
Western leaders and diplomats dismissed as a sham the planned referendums in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which could lead to their annexation by Russia.
They rejected the notion put forward in Moscow that Ukrainian attempts to recapture the lost territory could in future be considered an attack on the Russian mainland, possibly triggering a fiercer Russian response.
But Mr Putin said that Russia would “do everything to ensure safe conditions for holding referendums” and accept what western diplomats expect to be a rigged pro-Kremlin result.
Britain's Defence Ministry said in a regular intelligence update that the sudden urgency of the referendums, set to take place within days, was "likely driven by fears of imminent Ukrainian attack".
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz:
“It is very, very clear that these sham referendums cannot be accepted, that they have no basis in international law or in agreements among the global community. It is merely putting a gloss on an attempt at imperialist aggression.”
French President Emmanuel Macron:
“Russia declared war, it invaded this region, it bombed it, it killed people, it made other people flee and now it explains that in this same region it is going to organise a referendum. If this were not tragic, we could laugh. This is cynicism and therefore obviously it will not be recognised by the international community and therefore it will have no legal consequences.”
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
“Sham referendums have no legitimacy and do not change the nature of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. This is a further escalation in Putin’s war. The international community must condemn this blatant violation of international law and step up support for Ukraine.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan:
“We know that these referenda will be manipulated. We know that Russia will use these sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories either now or in the future … if this does transpire, the United States will never recognise Russia’s claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell:
“The European Union strongly condemns these planned illegal ‘referenda’, which go against the legal and democratically elected Ukrainian authorities, are in violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and in blatant breach of international law. The results of such actions will be null and void and would not be recognised by the EU and its Member States.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“Canada denounces Russia’s planned ‘referendums’ in occupied regions of Ukraine. We will never recognise them. This is a blatant violation of international law. It is a further escalation of war. And it is unacceptable.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba:
“Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything. Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilisation’. 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.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas:
“As Russia moves ahead with fake referenda in occupied territories of Ukraine, let me say it loud and clear: we will never recognise this. Ukraine has every right to take back its territory. Donbas, Crimea, Kherson – it’s all Ukraine.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra:
“The so-called ‘referendums’ pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine have announced are nothing other than a new, blatantly illegitimate attempt by Russia to change internationally recognised borders. If anything, it motivates us even more to stand with Ukraine and persevere in helping them.”