Putin ally says he favours formally incorporating Ukrainian regions into Russia

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  • Medvedev says Russia favors annexation of Ukrainian territories
  • Its prelude is to hold a referendum
  • Such a step would be irreversible – Medvedev
  • Ukraine says its forces have captured a village in Luhansk
  • “Businesses are clearly scared,” says Zelensky.

LONDON/Kyiv, Sept 20 (Reuters) – A top ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday he favored holding a referendum on two eastern Ukrainian regions formally becoming part of Russia, which would seriously escalate Moscow’s conflict with Moscow. West.

The statement by former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is now vice president of the Security Council, marked a hardening of Russian rhetoric on Ukraine and the strongest sign yet that the Kremlin intends to proceed with a plan outlined by Ukraine and the West. would be illegal.

Putin made his comments as Putin takes the next steps in a nearly seven-month conflict with the West that has begun since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and the battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine.

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Leaders of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) discussed combining their efforts to hold a referendum on joining Russia a day earlier. Read on

Officials in the Russian-controlled South Kherson region called for a referendum on joining Russia on Tuesday.

Medvedev suggested that Russia’s annexation of the LPR and DPR – collectively known as Donbas – would be an irreversible step once completed. Then anyone attacking them would be attacking Russia itself, which, according to its own laws, would be entitled to retaliate in self-defense.

“Encroachment on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all force in self-defense,” Medvedev said in a post on Telegram. “That’s why Kyiv and the West fear this referendum.”

No future Russian leader would constitutionally be able to change the outcome of the vote, he wrote.

Washington and the West have so far been careful not to supply Ukraine with weapons that could be used to fire on Russian territory, and Medvedev’s explanation of what de facto annexation would legally mean from Moscow’s perspective sounded like a future warning to the West.

“It (referendum) will completely change the vector of development of Russia for decades. And not only of our country. The geopolitical transformation of the world will be irreversible after the incorporation of new territories into Russia,” he wrote.

It is unclear how the referendum will be held as Russian and Russian-backed forces control only 60% of the Donetsk region while Ukrainian forces seek to retake Luhansk.

Pro-Russian officials have previously said the referendum could be held electronically and that everything was technically ready to go ahead.

Luhansk emphasis

Medvedev’s comments came as Ukraine recaptured the village of Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region by its forces and was preparing to retake all of the territory that had so far been fully occupied by Russian forces.

Unverified footage on social media showed Ukrainian troops in the village, just 10 km (6 miles) west of the city of Lisichensk, which fell to the Russians in July after weeks of grinding battles.

“There will be a battle for every centimeter,” Luhansk Governor Serhii Gaidai wrote in a telegram. “The enemy is preparing their defenses. So we won’t just walk in.”

Russia has named the primary objective of a “special military operation” in Ukraine to take full control of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk region, alleging Russian-speakers have been tortured and fired upon by Ukrainian government forces, a charge Kiev denies.

Ukrainian forces began pushing into Luhansk this month after a lightning strike drove Russian forces out of northeastern Kharkiv province.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said in a televised speech late Monday that “the occupiers are clearly scared,” focusing on “pace” in the now-liberated areas.

“The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed at which normal life is restored,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian leader also signaled that he would use a video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to call on him to speed up the delivery of weapons and aid.

In the south, where another Ukrainian counteroffensive is making slow progress, Ukraine’s armed forces said they sank a barge carrying Russian troops and equipment across a river near Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region.

“Efforts to build the crossing failed to withstand fire from Ukrainian forces and were halted. The barge … became an addition to the occupiers’ submarine force,” the military said in a statement.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from the war zone on either side.

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Report by Reuters Bureau; Writing by Andrew Osborne; Editing by Angus McSwan

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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