By declaring referenda in four Ukrainian regions and vowing to defend new Russian territory with all means necessary, Vladimir Putin has created a whole new war.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
From Russia’s perspective, the war in Ukraine until now has been a “special military operation” intended to defend the self-declared independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.
For eight years Moscow had rebuffed entreaties from Donbass to recognize those republics. Now Russia is prepared to absorb them as part of the Russian Federation itself, along with the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.
On Wednesday in Moscow President Vladimir Putin announced that referenda to decide whether to join Russia would be held in those four places from this Friday until next Wednesday. After that, the Russian Duma must decide whether to accept the results and formally annex those territories into Russia.
All that is expected to happen, and once it does the game on the battlefield will change dramatically. From Russia’s point of view, it will no longer be assisting the militia of independent republics with Russian regular units against attacks by Ukraine. It will now be defending Russian territory, against attacks by Ukraine.
Putin did not threaten offensive nuclear war as his remarks in the West are being spun, but said Russia would defend its own territory with nuclear weapons if necessary. It isn’t known what level of Ukrainian attack against what Russia would now consider its own territory would be needed to bring about such a response.
But the nuclear warning will surely have Pentagon planners for Ukrainian troops thinking twice about whether to launch major offensives to recapture Ukrainian territory from Russia.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe