Global pressure is mounting on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as world leaders condemn referendums by Kremlin proxies that could set the stage for Russian annexation of occupied parts of Ukraine.
Four regions under whole or partial Russian control in Ukraine’s east and south said this week that they would begin Friday to hold votes on annexation.
The United States and its allies have warned that the referendums would be rigged to justify Moscow’s invasion.
“The United States will never recognize Russia’s claims” to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters on Tuesday, saying the “sham” votes were probably a precursor to mobilization efforts by the Kremlin.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, called on the international community to step up support for Ukraine amid what he called an escalation of the war. “Sham referendums have no legitimacy,” he wrote on Twitter.
Analysts echoed the U.S. assessment that the referendums were aimed at recruiting additional troops after a Ukrainian counteroffensive forced an embarrassing retreat by Russian forces in recent weeks.
“The Kremlin’s annexation plans are primarily targeting a domestic audience,” the research group Institute for the Study of War wrote in a report on Tuesday. “Putin likely hopes to improve Russian force generation capabilities by calling on the Russian people to volunteer for a war to ‘defend’ newly claimed Russian territory.”
The report said the move was a sign of Moscow’s limited options and that Mr. Putin was appealing to ethnonationalism because the country could not provide financial incentives to military recruits in occupied territories.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement that the bloc and its member states would not recognize the results of the referendums and that it would consider additional sanctions.
Leaders speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York said the votes would do little to change the fact that Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine was an unjustifiable violation of its sovereignty.
“Russia must now see that it cannot impose its will militarily even if there are fake pretend referenda in the territories that have been bombed and occupied,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said in his speech.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in his nightly address that his country would continue its fight against Russia and thanked Ukraine’s allies for their condemnation of the referendums.