Ukraine and its allies have condemned referendum proposals, fearing they would exacerbate the seven-month situation that started with Russia's incursion.
Credit: Sergei Malgavko; TASS
Four Russian-controlled districts in eastern and southern Ukraine have announced plans to conduct referendums on joining Russia, potentially setting the way for Moscow to expand its seven-month-old conflict.
Officials said that voting would begin on September 23 and go through September 27.
Ukraine denounced Russia's idea as a ruse to retake the initiative after suffering catastrophic defeats on the battlefield.
"Sham'referendums' will alter nothing," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
"Russia has been and continues to be an aggressor, unlawfully seizing sections of Ukrainian territory." Ukraine has every right to free its regions and will continue to do so regardless of what Russia says."
According to authorities and news organizations, voting will take place in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics of the Donbas area, which Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized as autonomous soon before deploying troops into Ukraine in February.
A vote will also be held in the southern Kherson area, which Moscow won early in Russia's advance in Ukraine, as well as in the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhia region.
Russia does not fully control any of the four areas, with Russia controlling just roughly 60% of the Donetsk region.
When asked about the referendums, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "From the very beginning of the operation... we stated that the peoples of the individual regions should determine their destiny, and the whole present scenario demonstrates that they wish to be masters of their fate."
The incorporation of the territories into Russia would result in a dramatic escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, as Moscow would be able to claim it is protecting its own territory against Ukrainian soldiers.
This can, in turn, lead to a full-scale mobilization in Russia, and it could even justify Russia dragging some of its allies into the conflict.