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People gather near the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow on Sept. 30 before a ceremony to declare the annexation of four Ukrainian regions. At the top of the screen behind them are the words 'Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson - Russia!'Reuters

Russia has four new regions, President Vladimir Putin claimed on Sept. 30 in a ceremony to annex more than 100,000 square kilometres of Ukraine – an area about twice the size of Nova Scotia, or 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory – that his troops have partly occupied since the war began.

The regions’ inhabitants voted, sometimes at gunpoint, in sham referendums that Ukraine and its allies rejected as illegal. In his Sept. 30 speech, Mr. Putin – who, a few days later, signed an annexation law written by the legislature he controls – warned Kyiv to accept those votes as “the will of millions of people,” which his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, has said he will not do. Mr. Putin also said his forces would “protect our lands with every means at our disposal,” an implied threat to use Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Ukraine and its allies are carefully considering their next moves in a conflict that is almost certain to escalate. Here’s what you need to know.

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RUSSIA

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provinces

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UKRAINE

Luhansk

Donetsk

Zaporizhzhia

Kherson

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Crimea

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

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THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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BELARUS

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RUSSIA

Ukrainian

provinces

claimed

by Russia

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Luhansk

Donetsk

Zaporizhzhia

Kherson

ROMANIA

Crimea

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

BULGARIA

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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POLAND

Kyiv

Ukrainian provinces

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UKRAINE

Luhansk

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Donetsk

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MOLDOVA

Zaporizhzhia

Kherson

ROMANIA

Crimea

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

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THE GLOBE AND MAIL


War in Ukraine: An overview

This isn’t the first time Mr. Putin has laid claim to part of Ukraine in recent years. In 2014, seizing on the chaos after the ouster of Ukraine’s Kremlin-allied president, Russian forces invaded the Crimean Peninsula and staged a highly disputed vote to have it rejoin Russia. Ukraine and its allies, including Canada, consider Crimea to be occupied Ukrainian territory.

Since war broke out this past February, the Black Sea coast around Crimea and the eastern regions bordering Russia have seen the heaviest fighting. Many of those lands are under Russian control now, though Ukrainian counteroffensives have hemmed them in more successfully in recent weeks.


Graffiti in the city of Luhansk shows children with Russian flags on Sept. 27.The Associated Press

Luhansk

Luhansk is the name of the easternmost oblast, or province, of Ukraine, and also the name of its largest city. Together with Donetsk, it’s part of an industrial heartland called Donbas that, long before the war, had a large ethnic Russian population. In 2014, Russian-backed separatists declared themselves as the Luhansk People’s Republic, seizing control of part of the oblast but claiming it in its entirety. A 2015 peace deal de-escalated, but did not stop, the breakaway republic’s battles with Ukrainian forces. Then, this past February, Mr. Putin recognized it as a sovereign nation and send a “peacekeeping” force there, one of the provocations preceding the war.


The ruins of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Sept. 15.AFP via Getty Images

Donetsk

As in Luhansk, Donetsk has a pro-Russian junta that declared itself a separate state in 2014, and was recognized by Mr. Putin earlier this year. But the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and its Russian backers control only about 60 per cent of the oblast itself. That now includes Mariupol, the port where Russian and Ukrainian troops spent months fighting for control of the city proper and a strategic steel factory. The siege ended in May when the Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal factory surrendered and were taken to Russian-held territory.


Kherson residents visit an interior ministry office on July 25 to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Kherson

The city of Kherson, the invaders’ first major conquest of the war, has been in Russian hands since March, when Crimean officials began spreading claims that Kherson’s people wanted reunification with Russia. Cementing control over Kherson’s oblast is important to Moscow’s war effort because it allows troops to move more easily from Crimea to Odesa, a Ukrainian-held city that Mr. Putin, citing its historic ties with Russia, sees as symbolically important.


A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in August.Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Zaporizhzhia

“Zaporizhzhia” is the name of three things critical to the war: A city with a pre-war population of about 750,000 people, a nuclear power plant south of it – one of Europe’s largest – and the oblast that encompasses both. Russian troops are in control of only one of those things, the power plant, which they seized in March; since then, there has been heavy shelling in the area, for which Ukrainian and Russian forces blame each other. The plant’s reactors were shut down in September as Ukraine’s Energy Minister told The Globe and Mail it was close to a “Fukushima scenario,” referring to 2011′s nuclear disaster in Japan.


What happens to these four regions next?

  • Military draft: The Donetsk and Luhansk republics already had their own conscription policies when the war started, and Moscow has been calling up more and more of its reservists to fight in Ukraine. Since Russia’s military considers the annexed residents to be Russians, they might be forced to join up – unless those unwilling to do so can flee the country, as many men of fighting age have been doing already.
  • Nuclear tensions: Moscow has said it’ll consider the annexed regions part of its nuclear umbrella. If Mr. Putin orders those weapons to be turned against Ukraine, it’s possible they would use tactical nukes, low-yield warheads that can be fired at short range. Some of these could be more powerful than the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, but not as much as strategic offensive warheads with dozens of times more explosive force. Russia has hundreds of both kinds of warheads.

Russia’s nuclear warheads:

5,977 (2022 estimate by Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

Strategic offensive

warheads

Non-strategic, defensive

“tactical” warheads

Retired

warheads

2,565

1,912

1,500

Naval tactical warheads

935

Non-strategic air-launched warheads

500

Surface-to-air warheads

387

Surface-to-surface warheads

Iskander-M

Road-mobile, surface-

to-surface ballistic

missile

90

the globe and mail, Source: graphic news; Bulletin of

Atomic Scientists; The Heritage Foundation; IISS; Missile

Defense Advocacy Alliance

Russia’s nuclear warheads:

5,977 (2022 estimate by Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

Strategic offensive

warheads

Non-strategic, defensive

“tactical” warheads

Retired

warheads

2,565

1,912

1,500

Naval tactical warheads

935

Non-strategic air-launched warheads

500

Surface-to-air warheads

387

Surface-to-surface warheads

Iskander-M

Road-mobile, surface-

to-surface ballistic

missile

90

the globe and mail, Source: graphic news; Bulletin of

Atomic Scientists; The Heritage Foundation; IISS; Missile

Defense Advocacy Alliance

Russia’s nuclear warheads:

5,977 (2022 estimate by Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

Strategic offensive

warheads

Non-strategic, defensive

“tactical” warheads

Retired

warheads

2,565

1,912

1,500

Naval tactical warheads

935

Non-strategic air-launched warheads

500

Surface-to-air warheads

387

Surface-to-surface warheads

Iskander-M

Road-mobile, surface-

to-surface ballistic

missile

90

the globe and mail, Source: graphic news; Bulletin of Atomic Scientists; The Heritage

Foundation; IISS; Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance

With reports from Mark MacKinnon, Nathan VanderKlippe, Reuters and The Associated Press

Russia’s war: More from The Globe and Mail
The Decibel

What kind of nuclear weapons does Russia have, and what would happen if the Putin regime followed through on threats to use them in Ukraine? Nuclear scientist and national-security expert Cheryl Rofer explains. Subscribe for more episodes.


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