Sep 25, 2022 - World

Zelensky: Russia annexing Ukrainian territory will end diplomatic talks

If Russia successfully annexes occupied territories of Ukraine, it would spell the end of diplomatic negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Driving the news: Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine — Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — are holding referendums from Friday through Tuesday on whether to join Russia.

  • Denounced by Ukrainian and Western leaders as a "sham," the referendums could lead to the annexation of nearly 15% of Ukraine.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed on Saturday that Russia will extend "full protection" to the four regions if they are annexed.

What they're saying: Zelensky said that the referendum could "lead to very tragic moments" and that Ukrainians "who don't come to referendum, you know, Russians can turn off their electricity and won't give them an opportunity to live a normal human life."

  • "They force people, they throw them in prisons. They force them to come to these pseudo-referenda. And also, they also announced mobilization. They're forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories."
  • If Russia succeeds with the referendums — for which the ballots have "been already prepared" — it will "make it impossible, in any case, to continue any diplomatic negotiations with the president of [the] Russian Federation, and he knows it very well," Zelensky said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • "I think it's a very dangerous signal from President Putin that tells us that Putin is not going to finish this war."

The referendums also risk bringing the West into direct conflict with Russia, which the U.S. and its allies have thus far sought to avoid.

  • They give Putin the ability to say, "it's our territory. Look, we conducted referenda. Now, it's the West who attacks Russia. Now, the West attacks our territories," Zelensky said.

State of play: Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal denounced the referendums as meaningless during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

  • "It means nothing. Not for Ukraine, not for [the] civilized world," Shmyhal told host Chuck Todd.
  • He added that he believed no countries would recognize the results of the referendums "because this is occupation of our territories and no referendums could be held there in a normal, civilized way."

Shmyhal, who also dubbed Putin a "terrorist" during the interview, added that Russia would need to "leave our territories" as a precondition for any diplomatic resolution to the war.

  • He further clarified that this would include Crimea, echoing a sentiment expressed by Zelensky last month that the war must end with Ukraine regaining the territory Russia annexed in 2014.
  • "We should have all our territories in the borders of 1991, which are internationally recognized," Shmyhal said.
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