image Photo: Reuters

Israel opposes referendums on Ukraine

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has announced that it will not recognize a hastily arranged vote in four areas of occupied Ukraine to join Russia.

By Erin Viner

“Israel recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and will not recognizes the results of referendums in the eastern districts of Ukraine,” stated the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Israel has condemned the 24 February Russian invasion and expressed solidarity with Kyiv,  but has so far held back from fulfilling Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy’s requests for military assistance for what Kyiv views as defensive aid against Moscow.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has long been openly critical of Russian operations in Ukraine, in agreement with calls to establish whether its military actions are tantamount to war crimes. Jerusalem has also voted against Moscow at the United Nations.

Russian-installed officials declared yesterday that tallies from complete results from arranged voting – that was held over just five days – in the territories the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces affirmed support of joining Russian between 87% to 99.2%.

All four regions are held by Russian forces or Russia-backed separatists, and together amount to at least 90,000 square km of Ukraine – about 15% of the entire country. Similar referendums were also held back in 2014 following aggression by Moscow’s armed forces concerning succession from Ukraine on the Russian-controlled Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Russia formally annexed Crimea in 2014 in accordance with Ukraine’s post-Soviet borders established in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. If and when the four additional regions are annexed, together with Crimea, Russia will assert sovereignty over at least one-fifth of Ukrainian territory.

The head of the upper house of Moscow’s parliament said the the next step would be formal annexation, perhaps as soon as 4 October.

“The results are clear. Welcome home, to Russia!” Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and an tally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Telegram.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was quick to denounce the outcome, resulting from the taking of took ballot boxes from house to house. Both Kyiv and the West widely criticized the move as an illegitimate, coercive exercise designed to create a legal pretext for Russia to annex the four regions.

“This farce in the occupied territories cannot even be called an imitation of a referendum,” Zelenskyy said in video address late last night.

“Russia’s sham referenda, if accepted, will open a pandora’s box that we cannot close,” United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council. She said the Washington will will introduce a resolution to the UNSC calling on member states not to recognize any change to Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops. The US said it is also preparing to impose additional sanctions on Russia if it carries out its annexation plans.

While Moscow holds veto power in the UNSC, Thomas-Greenfield warned that such an action would prompt the US to take the issue to the UN General Assembly.

“Any referenda held under these conditions, at the barrel of a gun, can never be remotely close to free or fair,” Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador James Kariuki said.

Russia remains nevertheless remains defiant, with UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia insisting at the Security Council session that the referendums were conducted transparently and in line with electoral norms.

“This process is going to continue if Kyiv does not recognize its mistakes and its strategic errors and doesn’t start to be guided by the interests of its own people and not blindly carry out the will of those people who are playing them,” he declared.

It is important to note that if Russia proceeds to annex the four Ukrainian regions, Putin could claim that any attempt by Ukraine to recapture them would be tantamount to an attack on Russia itself.

Putin warned last week that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of his nation. Kyiv responded by saying it would not be influenced by either that dire threat or an annexation and intends to pursue all efforts to free the territory currently occupied by invading Russian forces.

Diplomats say the nuclear saber-rattling is an attempt by Russia to intimidate the West into reducing its support of Ukraine.

President Putin had already recognized two parts of Donbas – the self-proclaimed Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR) as “independent states” just ahead of his military’s Febuary invasion.  Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been heavily involved in the efforts to bring an end to the war.

Israel has sent planeloads of humanitarian aid and built a field hospital in Ukraine. It has also taken in refugees from the war-torn nation, and now preparing to treat injured Ukrainian fighters.

Prime Minister Lapid revealed that two soldiers already arrived in Israel for medical treatment on Sunday, with 18 more severely injured troops expected to arrive over the the next two weeks.

“Israel has great experience in rehabilitating amputees. We have excellent medical teams and hospitals that opened their doors and their hearts to the injured Ukrainian soldiers,” he said, while vowing to “continue aiding Ukraine and its citizens” and wishing “a speedy recovery to the wounded.”

The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel has expressed gratitude to Israel “for organizing the process of providing free care for the Ukrainian soldiers in leading hospitals in Israel.”