Putin's 'in earnest' phase in Ukraine has begun
The referendum is a strategic move that flips the balance of power in the Russian-NATO conflict in Russia’s favor and puts the collective West’s credibility at stake.
On the 7th of past July, when Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with heads of Russian parliamentary blocs, said that Moscow hadn't yet started its special military operation in Ukraine in earnest. Everyone assumed, especially in Western capitals, that he was hinting at an imminent military escalation by the Russian forces. But the two-and-a-half-month period that has passed since then has proved just the opposite. The Ukrainian forces, backed by new shipments of Western weapons, were the ones that initiated the military escalation.
Putin: “In general, Russia has not yet started in Ukraine in earnest”
The West was disappointed, and the offensive of the Ukrainian forces in Kharkov, Zaporozhye and Kherson was smothered, when the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions surprised everyone by announcing the organization of a referendum on their accession to the Russian Federation. These are precisely the earnest steps that Putin was referring to.
If the accession of Donetsk and Lugansk to Russia was a settled issue (but postponed since 2014 when the two republics held a referendum on secession from Ukraine), then the accession of Kherson and Zaporizhia to the Russian state is a strategic and geopolitical necessity in terms of militarily and logistically securing Crimea and connecting it to the Russian mainland.
Of course, this Russian preemptive step will force Ukraine to further its military escalation and NATO to increase military support to the Kiev regime. However, Moscow's opponents will suddenly find themselves engaged in a war in Russian lands, not only de facto but legally as well. As Deputy Chairman of the Russian National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said, this is why Kiev and the West are so afraid of these referendums.
Medvedev: “Encroachment onto Russian territory is a crime, and if committed, allows you to use all your force in self-defense”
Thus, the referendum is a strategic move that flips the balance of power in the Russian-NATO conflict in Russia’s favor and puts the collective West’s credibility at stake and in the face of two options: either retreat and enter into negotiations with Moscow on the security guarantees it requested before the outbreak of the crisis, or engage in further military escalation until reaching a direct clash with Russia. However, it is clear from the statements made by the Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, that the NATO Alliance is not in the process of waging a war against Russia, in which Europe will be its battlefield.
Bauer: “NATO is not at war with Russia. I have to be very clear about that.. If Russia would attack one of our allies, then it is absolutely clear, and we make that as clear as we can to Russia, that we would defend every inch of allied territory. Then Russia and NATO will be in a conflict. But until that moment, NATO is not at war with Russia.”
To be historically correct, during the bloody winter events in Ukraine in 2014, the Russian President warned his then-American counterpart, Barack Obama, that the West’s continued interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine and attempts to distance Ukraine from Russia would lead to the disintegration of this country, and it would open the appetite of Ukraine’s greedy neighbors to annex parts of it under claims that it historically belongs to them, such as Poland, Romania and Hungary.
It was the West that created and fueled the Ukrainian crisis for years, and it is hard to imagine that the decision-makers in NATO countries, along with their advisors and experts, were not able to foresee such a dramatic development that threatens to break up Ukraine. Is the demise of Ukraine a common target for Russia and its opponents?