Ukrainian region announces vote on joining Russia
Zaporozhye Region will hold a referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and request joining Russia, the head of its administration announced on Monday.
Evgeny Balitskiy said that he had signed an order to organize the plebiscite during a regional forum held in the city of Melitopol. Over 700 representatives from various parts of the Ukrainian region approved the idea, according to RIA Novosti.
Earlier comments by administration officials indicated the referendum may be held as soon as mid-September.
Russian forces took partial control of the region during the initial offensive against Ukraine launched in late February. The eponymous city located in the north of the region on the Dnepr River remains under Ukrainian control.
Officials in Kherson Region, another Russia-controlled part of Ukraine, voiced similar plans to put to a vote the proposal of breaking away from Kiev and seeking to join Russia.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on Sunday reiterated a warning that if the two regions go through with their plans, Kiev will break off all talks with Russia. Moscow in response suggested that the Ukrainian president should address the citizens of those regions.
“The thing is, this is what the residents of the region plan. It's not like we [Russia] are holding a referendum. Here, apparently, it is necessary to understand to whom Zelensky is addressing this statement – to the citizens of Ukraine of the mentioned regions or to the citizens of Russia? If it’s to the citizens and leadership of Russia, then we are the wrong address,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on Monday.
There have been no peace talks between Russia and Ukraine for months, as Kiev rejected such contacts and claimed it would only negotiate after defeating Russian on the battlefield with the help of Western military aid.
Before the talks broke off, the two nations appeared to have made progress in resolving their differences. During a meeting in Istanbul in late March, Kiev had pledged to become a neutral country and accept restrictions on its military. Moscow said it prepared a draft peace agreement based on those proposals, but Ukraine never responded.
An indirect Russian-Ukrainian deal was mediated last month by the UN and Turkey to allow grain exports from three Ukrainian ports to resume via the Black Sea. The scheme was formalized in two separate agreements that were signed by Russia and Ukraine with the other two parties.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has since admitted that Kiev’s main goal was to use the ceasefire to buy time and “create powerful armed forces.”
In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbass republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked.