“Total protection”, military escalation: the next steps after Russian annexation of more Ukrainian territories

By signing this Friday (30) the decrees for the annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a new chapter in the conflict that began with the Russian invasion of the neighboring country, in 24 February.

As signaled by Putin’s announcement last week of 300 thousand reservists, considering these territories now part of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin will grant them the so-called “total protection”.

The term was used by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, last weekend, when the referendums for annexation of these regions were still being held.

“All the territory of the Russian State that has already been or can be additionally formalized in the Constitution of our country will certainly benefit from full protection,” Lavrov said at a news conference in New York. “How could it be otherwise? All laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation are applicable throughout its territory.”

In the announcement of the mobilization of reservists, Putin had already warned that Russia would be willing to use “all means available”, which includes tactical nuclear weapons, to defend Russian territory.

Alexander Baunov, a member of the American foreign policy think tank Carnegie Endowment, told CNN that Putin’s speech becomes more aggressive with annexations, as if saying to his enemies: “You decided to fight with us in Ukraine, now try to fight with us in Russia, or, to be more precise, in what we call Russia.”

In 2020, Putin updated Russia’s nuclear doctrine, predicting that weapons of this type can be used “in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the State is threatened.”

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The West and Ukraine, however, refute Putin’s tactic and they are doubling down. Kyiv’s allies, who do not recognize the referendums, considered by them to be fraudulent and in which 15% of Ukrainian territory was taken (the largest incorporation by use of force in Europe since the Second World War), sanctions against Moscow and military aid to the government of Volodymyr Zelensky are already intensifying, who reiterated that the invaded country will continue to fight to recover these regions.

“The entire territory of our country will be freed from this enemy,” the president said. “Russia already knows this. She felt our power”, he added, referring to the advances of the last few weeks of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Another issue that contributes to this increase in hostilities is that Russia needs to consolidate its dominance over the incorporated areas. this Friday. “It is necessary, at the very least, to liberate the entire territory of the People’s Republic of Donetsk”, had advanced Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Russia already controls practically the entire territory of Luhansk and Kherson, but still needs to take half of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia.

Another consequence of signing the decrees this Friday is that Putin must make large investments in the four regions. To support the narrative that Russians are better managers than Ukrainians, Putin developed major infrastructure projects in Crimea after, in 2014, the population of the Ukrainian peninsula approved accession to Russia in a referendum also marked

Last Tuesday (27), the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vasili Nebenzia , claimed that the population of Crimea “has been living better since then”. “We have invested a lot in the region, and we are going to do the same in Donbas,” he said.

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The question is whether Russia, with its economy heavily hit by Western sanctions, will have the financial and practical conditions to do major works in four regions that are battlegrounds (Donetsk and Luhansk, since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists started a civil war in Donbas). And if it will be in possession of these regions long enough for that.

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