Putin Plans to Annex Ukrainian Provinces Holding Referendums: ISW

Vladimir Putin's announcement to partially mobilize the population also included a pledge to back referendums in four Ukrainian provinces to join the Russian Federation, which a U.S. think tank said was a prelude to their annexation.

Russian-appointed occupation officials in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts announced Tuesday that they will hold a "referendum" on acceding to Russia with voting to start on Friday.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that the Kremlin would use the falsified results of these "sham referenda" to illegally annex all Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

Russian troops
Russian servicemen patrol the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol on May 18, 2022. OLGA MALTSEVA/Getty Images

This would broaden the domestic legal definition of "'Russian' territory under Russian law," enabling Moscow to legally and openly deploy troops to fight in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Putin hoped that the annexations would aim to deter Ukraine's counter-offensives by framing Ukrainian attempts to liberate occupied territory as attacks on Russia, according to ISW.

The annexation plans were for a domestic audience and would be part of an "appeal to Russian ethnonationalism and the defense of purportedly 'Russian peoples,'" the assessment said.

This was because Putin realized that current Russian forces "are insufficient" to control Ukraine and voluntary mobilization was falling short in replenishing the large troop losses.

"Putin has neither the time nor the resources needed to generate effective combat power," the ISW added in its assessment that came hours before Putin made his televised announcement about partial mobilization.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.

Additionally, there are planned demonstrations throughout Russia on Wednesday opposing Putin's decree to mobilize reserves and those who have served in the armed forces who have "military specialties and relevant experience."

The protests are organized by the political movement Vesna, which tweeted that the war "will truly come to every home and every family."

Meanwhile, jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said in a video message released by his lawyers that Putin's partial mobilization will lead to a "massive tragedy" and "a massive amount of deaths...to keep his personal power."

"Putin went into a neighboring country, killed people there, and is now sending a huge quantity of Russian citizens into this war," Navalny added.

After Putin's announcement, Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the call-up would involve 300,000 Russians "with previous military experience." The contracts of soldiers currently fighting in Ukraine will be extended until the end of the partial mobilization period.

Shoigu also announced that Russia had officially lost 5,937 personnel in the war, although Ukraine's armed forces put the number almost 10 times higher, at just over 55,000.