Russia’s annexation of Ukraine territory will backfire on Putin, force Zelensky to keep fighting

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The gunpoint voting is over and guess what, Russia says 87% to 99% of voters in four occupied swathes of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson want to join Russia. 

It’s a sham, of course. President Vladimir Putin is trying to prove to his fellow Russians that he still has a mandate for the war in Ukraine. He’s trying to freeze the conflict and keep the Donbass, some Black Sea ports and to protect access to Crimea.  

But Putin is shooting himself in the foot by stealing this territory. By annexing territory in the four regions, Putin is really leaving Zelensky no choice but to continue to fight. Annexation means "there is nothing to talk about with this President of Russia," Zelensky told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.  

BLUMENTHAL, GRAHAM CALL FOR ECONOMIC, MILITARY CUTS TO NATIONS THAT RECOGNIZE RUSSIA ANNEXATION OF UKRAINE

See this move by Putin for what it is: another desperate attempt to stop the military aid that is helping Ukraine beat back Russia.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of occupied swathes of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson won't stop Ukraine from advancing. FILE PHOTO

Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of occupied swathes of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson won't stop Ukraine from advancing. FILE PHOTO (Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS )

At this point, there is no political or military reason for Zelensky to pay any attention to Putin’s annexation. European leaders aren’t. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would "never" accept the referenda and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock denounced the voting where "people were taken out of their homes or from their jobs" at gunpoint "to cast votes in glass ballot boxes."  

From the military perspective, Russian forces do not even control all the territory Putin is snatching. Ukraine’s steady attacks won’t stop or even slow down just because Putin holds a sham vote and makes a speech in Moscow. Ukraine is retaking ground where Russia made gains over the summer. While they have a long way to go, Ukraine’s forces have the initiative, and are continuing the successful tactics of striking deep at Russian supply lines and defenses.  

So why did he do it? One can only conclude Putin is playing to a domestic Russian audience – minus the 180,000 Russians who have already fled the country since the Sep. 21 military call-up.  

Putin also has a bizarre fixation on rigged elections. Putin came out of his most recent re-election in Russia in 2018 with 76% of the vote. Of course, it helped that opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred from the race. The runner-up was "millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin" in the words of the BBC, and he got 12%. 

Putin’s showy elections fool no one, and Europe is not wavering in its support for Kyiv and opposition to Russia. In fact, the fake elections will most annoy France and Germany, who tried for years to get a ceasefire and real elections in the Donbass via the Minsk process after the 2014-2015 battles. 

Sadly, Putin has a dire set of plans for the four oblasts. He has already shipped in trusted Russian bureaucrats, installed Russian tax systems, and changed what school kids study, according to Mykhailo Minakov of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. Putin has paired cities in Russia with cities in the four territories for "reconstruction." Twinning St. Petersburg with Mariupol as a sister city is cynical, sinister and outrageous. 

Some will say Putin is also extending a "nuclear umbrella" over the annexed areas. Forget that. Ukrainian special forces hit Russian supply areas over the border near Belgorod back in April.  

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U.S. officials have repeatedly said there are no restrictions when Ukraine’s forces are striking Ukrainian territory held by Russian occupation forces. Speaking of which, I hope to see fresh attacks by Ukraine on Russian military targets in Crimea ASAP.  

From a tactical perspective, annexation does not increase the chance for a nuclear weapons detonation by Russia. Yes, you read that right. Right now, Putin does not have the domestic support to risk nuclear weapons use; can you imagine the lines fleeing from Russia if he did that? Also, use of nuclear weapons won’t gain him anything on the battlefield. Putin cannot blow radiation back on the annexed lands. He also must sell the Ukraine land grab as a win, and heck, if Putin says he’s winning, no nukes needed, right?  

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What the U.S. and allies must do is carry on supporting Ukraine’s military operations. Revelation of Russian atrocities – most recently at Izyum – has given Zelensky has ample justification for kicking Russia out of every square inch of Ukraine. 

"Annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity," Zelensky said of Putin. Once again, Zelensky takes the moral high ground, rallies international support, and keeps the initiative. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM REBECCA GRANT

Rebecca Grant joined FOX News Media as a contributor in March 2022, providing analysis on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other national security and military topics. 

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