Russian-led referendums in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine are set to conclude Tuesday with results expected to show that an alleged majority of Ukrainians supports the Kremlin’s illegal annexation of four regions.
Kyiv and Western officials have already decried Moscow’s referenda as a “sham” political ploy that mimics steps it took in 2014 when Russia reportedly falsified voting results to show Crimeans supported seceding from Ukraine.
A similar fate for the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions are expected to be announced Tuesday or Wednesday following four days of “voting.”
Reports over the weekend suggested Russian proxies forced Ukrainian citizens still in the war torn regions to vote by appearing at their houses with ballots, in some cases with armed personnel, and keeping track of those who voted against annexation.
Moscow has already said it will view any attack on the four regions as an attack on Russian soil following the results of the referenda.
Absorbing Ukrainian territories – where brutal fighting has raged since the invasion began seven months ago – as a part of Russia could provide Moscow with a pretext for even more aggressive measures.
On Tuesday acting deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia would use nuclear weapons if “conventional weapons threatens the very existence of our state.”
“If the threat to Russia exceeds the established danger limit, we will have to respond,” he said in a Telegram post. “Without asking anyone’s permission, without long consultations. And it’s definitely not a bluff.”
Medvedev’s comments are just the latest in a series of escalatory rhetoric that has brought the threat of nuclear war front and center amid the conflict in Ukraine.
The acting chairman additionally claimed that the U.S. and NATO would not respond if Moscow decided to use nuclear weapons over concerns of engaging in a nuclear war.
“I believe that NATO will not directly intervene in the conflict,” he continued. “After all, the security of Washington, London, Brussels is much more important for the North Atlantic Alliance than the fate of a dying Ukraine that no one needs.”
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the White House has warned the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will have “catastrophic consequences” for Russia.