Annexation vexation

Russia's annexations in Ukraine are a legal and strategic mess

Suddenly no one knows where Vladimir Putin thinks Russia’s borders are.

Members of Russia’s Federation Council, the Upper House of Parliament, at a session in Moscow, Russia, on Oct 4, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
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"Where does a Motherland Begin?", the patriotic theme song of a Soviet-era film series glorifying the KGB, is among Vladimir Putin's favourite tunes. In 2010 he played it clumsily on the piano at a benefits concert, and it enjoyed a bit of a revival in 2014 around Russia's seizure of Crimea in Ukraine. This week the song acquired an ironic subtext. With the Duma, Russia's Parliament, having formally annexed occupied areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, the country's government is no longer sure just where the motherland begins.

Officially Russia claims to have incorporated the provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson. But of the four, only Luhansk is under near-complete Russian control. The annexations are supposedly justified by fake referendums which Russia made a show of holding on Sept 23-27, but it cannot even pretend to have consulted populations in areas it did not administer. Ukraine's army is advancing rapidly in several areas, and the front lines are fluid. On Oct 3, as the Duma was preparing to vote, Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government spokesman, told reporters he could not say exactly which bits of Kherson and Zaporizhia were now part of Russia: "We will continue to consult with the local populations; that will depend on their desires."

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