Kremlin reportedly delays referendums after setback in Ukraine

An abandoned Russian armoured personnel carrier in eastern Ukraine, on Sept 11, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The Kremlin has put on hold referendums to annex territories claimed by Russian forces in Ukraine in the face of Kyiv's shock counter-offensive in the north-east, the independent Moscow Times said on Monday, citing a news website report involving sources close to the Kremlin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party last week proposed holding the annexation votes on Nov 4, Russia's National Unity Day.

"Donetsk, Luhansk and many other Russian cities will finally return to their home port. And the Russian world, now divided by formal borders, will regain its integrity," party secretary-general Andrey Turchak said last week.

But now, "nobody talks of November any more", the Moscow Times reported. If true, the report would underscore the political implications of Russia's military setback in Ukraine.

Far from replicating the success in Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed comfortably in 2014, Russian reverses in the Ukrainian theatre today appear to speak of the surprises sprung by the unpredictability of war.

That is not the view taken by Russia's mainstream statist media. On Sept 9, Pravda newspaper reported at length comments by Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya.

According to the diplomat, who denied the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or Nato, is manually manipulating Kyiv's actions in the theatre of operations.

He remarked that the US had taken part in efforts to coordinate the targets for the Himars multiple rocket launcher which it supplied to Ukraine.

Mr Nebenzya said the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is trying to create the "appearance of the country's ability to attack".

On Monday, Izvestia newspaper journalists Anton Lavrov and Andrey Fedorov reported that at the weekend, the Russian Defence Ministry had announced a large-scale transfer of the Russian Izyum-Balakley troops.

"These forces will be involved in the battles in the Donbas," they wrote, implying that recent Ukrainian advances, if any, were not irreversible. They cited military experts as pointing to "the need to concentrate forces as quickly as possible on the decisive places where the intensification of hostilities is expected".

In the context of the unfolding war in Ukraine, Tass news agency reported on Sunday comments by Mr Denis Pushilin, head of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine, that the situation along the combat line in the republic was tense but that the forces of the people's militia were holding it under control.

Other voices were more subdued. Mr Vitaly Ganchev, a Russia-appointed official in the Kharkiv region, told the Rossiya-24 news channel on Monday that Russian troops in the province had been outnumbered "eight times over".

He also said, without providing evidence, that Ukrainian forces had been bolstered by "Western mercenaries", Reuters reported.

Mr Sergei Mironov, the leader of a pro-Putin party in Parliament, criticised the authorities for celebrating Moscow' s annual City Day this past weekend, posting on Twitter: "It cannot be and it should not be that our guys are dying today, and we are pretending that nothing is happening!"

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.