“Israel recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and will not recognize the results of the referendums in the eastern regions of Ukraine.”
By World Israel News Staff and Associated Press
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded Tuesday evening to reports from Russia saying it will annex four districts that were occupied during the war in Ukraine.
“Israel recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and will not recognize the results of the referendums in the eastern regions of Ukraine,” the MFA stated.
Pro-Moscow officials said Tuesday that residents in one of the four occupied areas of Ukraine voted to join Russia in a Kremlin-orchestrated vote that has been dismissed by Ukraine and its Western allies including the U.S. as an illegitimate ‘sham’ whose results were never be recognized.
According to Russia-installed election officials in Zaporizhzhia region, 93.11% of the ballots case in the vote were in support of the annexation. Results from three other Ukrainian regions were expected to follow shortly.
The preordained outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia’s seven-month war in Ukraine because it is expected to serve as a pretext for Moscow to annex the four areas. That could happen as soon as Friday.
The referendums in the Luhansk and Kherson regions and parts of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia began Sept. 23, often with armed officials going door-to-door collecting votes. The ballots asked residents whether they wanted the areas to be incorporated into Russia.
Moscow-backed officials in the four occupied regions in southern and eastern Ukraine said polls closed Tuesday afternoon after five days of voting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address Russia’s parliament about the referendums on Friday, and Valentina Matviyenko, who chairs the parliament’s upper house, said lawmakers could consider annexation legislation on Oct. 4.
Meanwhile, Russia ramped up warnings that it could deploy nuclear weapons to defend its territory, including newly acquired lands, and mobilizing more than a quarter-million more troops to deploy to a front line of more than 1,000 kms (more than 620 miles).
After the balloting, “the situation will radically change from the legal viewpoint, from the point of view of international law, with all the corresponding consequences for protection of those areas and ensuring their security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.
Many Western leaders have called the referendum a sham.
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said “the sham referenda held by Russia have no legitimacy and are a blatant violation of international law. These lands are Ukraine.”
Moscow-Jerusalem relations deteriorating
The referendums follow a familiar Kremlin playbook for territorial expansion. In 2014, Russian authorities held a similar referendum on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, under the close watch of Russian troops. Based on the voting, Russia annexed Crimea. Putin cited the defense of Russians living in Ukraine’s eastern regions, and their supposed desires to join with Russia, as a pretext for his Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Jerusalem officially maintained neutrality; then-prime minister Naftali Bennett made an unsuccessful attempt at mediating negotiations between the two countries. Israel helped Ukraine on a humanitarian level, such as deploying a $6.4 million field hospital in Ukraine and hosting tens of thousands of refugees.
Israel did not join much of the Western world in imposing sanctions on Iran, one reason being that Moscow had been turning a blind eye to IDF strikes on Iranian bases in Syria. Recently, however, Israel-Russia relations have been deteriorating, with Moscow ordering the Jewish Agency to cease its activities in the country.