Russia has annexed four areas of Ukraine. According to the results of a referendum conducted by Russia, those four Ukrainian regions showed overwhelming local support for Moscow’s annexation.
And I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
The referendum was, of course, a hoax.
The results say it all. When it comes to their invasion of Ukraine, Russia, aka Putin, cannot even lie convincingly.
In a real election or referendum about a highly contested issue, there is no such thing as near 100% agreement. And yet, in both the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to official Russian reports, the referendum received over 98% support. It received 93% support in the Zaporizhzhia region, and 87% in the Kherson region.
Only in a totalitarian regime would the results be so lopsided. In an attempt at fairness, the Russians deigned to give the opposition a few small percentage points in order to prove that, in Russia, there is real democracy at work. And to convince the world that there was overwhelming agreement on the annexation.
But the world has not been fooled. It is Putin that is fooling himself.
And most of the world has come out in vocal condemnation of the Russian president and his land grab.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that: “The entire process around these sham referenda was a complete farce. The United States does not and will never recognize any of the Kremlin’s claims to sovereignty over parts of Ukraine that it seized by force and now purports to incorporate into Russia.”
That is pretty much the unanimous voice of Western world leadership. While each country chose their own phraseology, they all came out in condemnation of Russia and their policy of annexation.
Western condemnation was to be expected. What was not so expected was Israel’s condemnation. Condemnation of Russia by Israel is a blatant change in the Israeli public stance on Russia since the invasion into Ukraine commenced.
Israel’s foreign ministry made a very clear public statement following the annexations. The statement reads: “Israel recognizes the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and will not recognize the results of the referendums in its eastern districts.”
The foreign ministry made sure that their point was made. The statement continued, explaining that Israel: "repeated this position many times, including in recent days."
This was a major diplomatic step for Israel. The annexation was, diplomatically speaking, the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Until this annexation of the four regions of Ukraine, Israel successfully walked a tightrope. Why? Because Israel needed to make certain that they were on good terms with Russia.
When Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, the prime minister of Israel was Naftali Bennett. And Naftali Bennett took on the role of good guy.
In fact, on several occasions, Bennet was charged as the intermediary between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Bennett spoke by phone and even met face-to-face with Putin in an attempt to find a compromise acceptable to both sides.
At the time, Yair Lapid, now Israel’s current prime minister, was serving as Israel’s foreign minister. Yair Lapid was the bad cop to Bennett’s good cop. Lapid would loudly condemn Russian aggression and Bennet would speak cautiously, without publicly berating or condemning Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
The reason for this balancing act is simple to understand; Israel needed to work together with Russia to help secure Israel’s northern border with Syria and Lebanon.
Russia is entrenched in Syria. Their presence is a calming force and checks the aggressions of Hezbollah in both Syria and Lebanon. The Russian presence also prevents Iran from ratcheting tensions that, if left unchecked, could break out in an all-out war in the Middle East.
But then things got out of hand. Russia went too far. The annexation and the farcical referendum crossed a line in the sand and required Israel to join with the rest of the Western world in condemnation.
I am certain that Israel is hoping that their little voice will be lost in the clammer of dozens and dozens of other — larger — more influential countries condemning Russia.
Israel’s condemnation was tinged with diplomatic strategy. It was a recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty more than it was a condemnation of Russia’s annexation.
Again, here is the statement: “Israel recognizes the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and will not recognize the results of the referendums in its eastern districts.”
No one should have been surprised by Russia’s annexation. This was Putin’s invasion strategy from the very start. He always wanted to annex these four regions.
The Putin plan was to expand his border by pushing out into Ukraine and taking the Russian speaking territory there. Exactly like he did in Crimea.
Had Zelenskyy acquiesced, it would all have been over. But the Ukrainian president — and the Ukrainian people said “no.” And then the Russian plan took much longer to execute than expected.
Putin had expected that these regions and most of Ukraine would collapse almost immediately after his forces rolled over the border. So now Putin has put Part B of his plan into action. Annexation through referendum.
The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is a victim of his own delusions.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern," a weekly TV program, and "My Chopp," a daily radio spot. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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