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Understanding Russia’s planned referendum in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

Russian-backed separatists plan to hold referendums in the occupied areas of eastern Ukraine, a move that has triggered a chorus of condemnation from Western leaders.

The vote will pave the way for the formal annexation of swaths of territory by Russia after nearly seven months of the war with its neighbour, a former Soviet republic.

Who wants a referendum?

The self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), which President Vladimir Putin recognised as independent states just before the invasion on February 24, have said they want referendums on joining Russia from September 23 to 27 – that is from this Friday to Tuesday.

The Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, which are yet to be recognised as independent states by Russia, have also said they will hold their own votes.

Russia does not fully control any of the four regions, with only about 60 percent of the Donetsk region in Russian hands.

How much territory could Ukraine lose?

Russia controls more than 90,000sq km (34,750sq miles) of territory, or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area – roughly the size of Hungary or Portugal.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. With Crimea and the territory in the four other regions, Russia would gain an area about the same size as the US state of Pennsylvania.

What’s the significance?

If Russia goes ahead with the referendums and includes the four regions in Russia, then Ukraine – and potentially its Western backers too – would, from a Russian perspective, be fighting against Russia itself.

That would raise the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance, a scenario that President Joe Biden has said could lead to World War III, because NATO members are supplying arms and giving intelligence to Ukraine.

As such, a rushed Russian move to formally annex another big chunk of Ukrainian territory would be a major escalation just days after potentially the most significant Russian battlefield defeat of the war in northeastern Ukraine.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows the use of such weapons if it is attacked with nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.

While escalating the stakes of the confrontation, Putin could also announce additional steps.

Russian stocks plunged to their lowest in a month on Tuesday as Moscow reignited martial law fears with new legislation that tightened penalties for military personnel.

Unless Ukraine agreed to stop fighting for its lost territory, Russia would have to commit significant military forces to defend the newly annexed regions – which are still not fully under Russian control.

“Putin has made a bet on escalation,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik.

“All this talk about immediate referendums is an absolutely unequivocal ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West.”

INTERACTIVE-NATO-in-Europe-map-June 15 map

What does Ukraine say?

Ukraine said the threat of referendums was “naive blackmail” and a sign Russia was running scared.

“This is what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid, and obfuscates primitively,” said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “The Russians can do whatever they want. It will not change anything.”

Ukraine says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is ejected from its territory. Kyiv says it will never accept Russian control over its territory and has called on the West to supply more and better arms to fight Russian forces.

What happened in Crimea?

The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was toppled in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution.

After Russian forces on February 27, 2014 took control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and was transferred to Ukraine in Soviet times, a referendum on joining Russia was held on March 16.

Crimea’s leaders declared a 97 percent vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Russia formally added Crimea on March 21, less than a month after the invasion.

Kyiv and the West said the referendum violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

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With 52% of Brazil votes tallied, far-right incumbent Bolsonaro has a slight lead over ex-President Lula da Silva

With 52% of Brazil votes tallied, far-right incumbent Bolsonaro has a slight lead over ex-President Lula da Silva

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Haiti reports cholera deaths for first time in 3 years

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s government on Sunday announced that at least eight people have died from cholera, raising concerns about another potentially catastrophic epidemic like the one that broke out a decade ago and killed nearly 10,000 people.

The cases – the first cholera deaths reported in three years – came in a community called Dekayet in southern Port-au-Prince and in the gang-controlled seaside slum of Cite de Soleil, where thousands of people live in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

“Cholera is something that can spread very, very quickly,” warned Laure Adrien, director general of Haiti’s health ministry.

Food or water contaminated with the cholera bacteria can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration that can be deadly.

The United Nations said in a statement that it is working with Haiti’s government to “mount an emergency response to this potential outbreak,” stressing that health teams need to be guaranteed safe access to areas where cases have been reported.

The deaths come as a lack of fuel and ongoing protests shut down the availability of basic services across Haiti, including medical care and clean water, which is key to helping fight cholera and keep patients alive.

Haiti’s most powerful gang continues to control the entrance to a main fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince, leading to a lack of fuel amid soaring prices that have unleashed widespread protests that have paralyzed the country for more than two weeks.

The absence of fuel and increasing number of roadblocks have prevented water trucks from visiting neighborhoods to provide potable water to those who can afford it. It also has prompted some companies to temporarily shut down operations.

On Sunday, Caribbean Bottling Company said it could no longer produce or distribute potable water because its diesel reserves were “completely depleted,” adding that the lack of such a vital resource would affect “all sectors of society.”

Adrien said health officials were trying to visit communities where cholera has been reported, but that his agency, too, has been affected by a lack of fuel as he called on people blocking the gas terminal and organizing protests to “have a conscience.”

“This is a real problem,” he said of how the country has virtually been paralyzed. “We’re hoping this will not spread.”

Adrien noted that all those who died were unable to reach a hospital in time.

Haiti Health Minister Alex Larsen said people have a right to protest but asked Haitians to allow potable water supplies into neighborhoods that have been cut off by roadblocks and protests.

“Water has not been in these areas for a long time, and people are not drinking treated water,” he said, adding that cholera cases could spike again. “We ask people who can afford it to add a little chlorine to the water.”

Haiti’s last cholera epidemic sickened more than 850,000 people in a country of more than 11 million, marking one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the preventable disease in recent history.

United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal were blamed for introducing cholera into Haiti’s largest river in October 2010 by sewage. The U.N. has since acknowledged it played a role in the epidemic and that is has not done enough to help fight it, but it has not specifically said it introduced the disease.

Haiti would have been declared cholera-free by the World Health Organization only after reaching three consecutive years with no new cases.

———

Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.

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‘Dilemma for the Russians’ after surrendering key Ukraine city | Russia-Ukraine war News

The recapture of Lyman city in the east – in territory recently annexed by Moscow – raises questions about how Russia can hold surrounding areas with supply routes severed.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops pulled back.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential staging post for increased attacks to the east while heaping further pressure on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had taken over Lyman after encircling it the day before.

“As of 12:30pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the previous day it was withdrawing its forces there to move to “more favourable positions”.

‘Sort of a dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, who have used the city for months as a crucial logistics and rail hub in the Donetsk region to move military equipment, troops, and other necessary supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult so it presents a sort of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions or oblasts that Russia annexed on Friday after people there voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think-tank, said the fall of Lyman suggested Russia was “deprioritizing defending Luhansk” to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine. 

“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” it said

‘Courage, bravery, skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a city within territory of President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are able to push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with American broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retaken swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war.

A pomp-filled Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday has failed to stem a wave of criticism within Russia of how its “special military operation” is being handled.

Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, on Saturday called for a change of strategy “right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Other hawkish Russian figures criticised Russian generals and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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