Joe Lauria Russia-Ukraine

How the Ukraine War Changed Overnight

By declaring referenda in four Ukrainian regions and vowing to defend new Russian territory with all means necessary, Vladimir Putin has created a whole new war.
Putin speaking at the Kremlin on Wednesday. (Screenshot/

By Joe Lauria / Consortium News

From Russia’s perspective, the war in Ukraine until now has been a “special military operation” intended to defend the self-declared independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk. 

For eight years Moscow had rebuffed entreaties from Donbass to recognize those republics. Now Russia is prepared to absorb them as part of the Russian Federation itself, along with the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.

On Wednesday in Moscow President Vladimir Putin announced that referenda to decide whether to join Russia would be held in those four places from this Friday until next Wednesday. After that, the Russian Duma must decide whether to accept the results and formally annex those territories into Russia. 

All that is expected to happen, and once it does the game on the battlefield will change dramatically.  From Russia’s point of view, it will no longer be assisting the militia of independent republics with Russian regular units against attacks by Ukraine.  It will now be defending Russian territory, against attacks by Ukraine. [The Russian Ministry of Defense said it was mobilizing 300,000 reservists and other soldiers with combat experience.]

Putin did not threaten offensive nuclear war as his remarks in the West are being spun, but said Russia would defend its own territory with nuclear weapons if necessary. It isn’t known what level of Ukrainian attack against what Russia would now consider its own territory would be needed to bring about such a response.

But the nuclear warning will surely have Pentagon planners for Ukrainian troops thinking twice about whether to launch major offensives to recapture Ukrainian territory from Russia.

Joe Lauria
Joe Lauria

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @unjoe


  1. Anybody with an ounce of brains and some knowledge of history can see that this conflict will escalate.

    This crisis is existential for Russia and they will not back down or capitulate….Ever. This is certainty regardless of whatever the brainwashed zombie sheep may think.

    The west is unhinged and increasingly desperate, led by nothing less they psychopaths and madmen who are so deep in it now that it is inevitable they will push this crisis across the line into open warfare.

    Once they do…whichever side starts to lose will escalate to nukes. There can be no conventional war that does not escalate to nuclear war between these nuclear powers.

    Mass death is the future because the west is totally batshit insane…culturally, ideologically, and militarily.

    So enjoy living while you can.

    1. “The west is unhinged and increasingly desperate, led by nothing less they psychopaths and madmen who are so deep in it now that it is inevitable they will push this crisis across the line into open warfare. ”


      You have it backwards, probably because you don’t know how to recognise a psychopath when one is described to you. Look at Putin and his history. HE is a psychopath. A criminal psychopath, which is the worst kind.

      In 1996 he signed the Budapest Memorandum, agreeing, in return for the nukes Ukraina would give Russia, never to make a move against Ukraina. The US and UK agreed to protect Ukraina in case Putin lied.

      In 2014, Putin showed that, mirabile dictu, he had lied: he had begun infiltrating “separatists” into the Donbas with the intention of splitting it off and absorbing it into Russia, and he seized Crimea although it had been permanently deeded to Ukraina by the USSR in the mid ’50s.

      A megalomaniac psychopath, Putin’s claims about Ukraina sound demented when compared to any history of the region you’d like to look at. Like all psychopaths, Putin lies *even when those to whom he’s lying KNOW that he’s lying and he knows they know*. Compare with Trump, who even smiles when he lies (I’ve not seen Putin smile when lying, yet).

      Putin claims Ukraina has always been part of Russia. In fact, it began the other way around: at the height of the Kievan Rus’s glory Moscow was nothing but a small trading post out in the boonies, surrounded by a stockade wall of logs and the large number of Mongols who exercised everyday control even though Moscow was legally part of the Kievan Rus’. The ruler of the trading post sold out to the Mongols, and they gave him a toy title, which gave him a leg up on Moscow becoming a power in the north central region.

      To cut the long story short, Ukraina was not “part of Russia” except during the reign of Kate the Great in the 1700s. The rest of the time it was its own country even when it was being treated like the cat’s litterbox by Moscow. Putin can’t even bring himself to admit that, so why would *anyone* take him seriously if they weren’t ignorant of the truth.

      He is a psychopath, which means he is both emotionless and coldly rational. He will threaten nukes, but he won’t kill himself by trying to use them (Shoygu would kill him before he’d let him press the button because Shoygu, like Kapitan First Rank Arkhipov before him, doesn’t want to die from a stupid mistake (I always hoped that the USN admiral wet himself when he learned that those pokey old diesel subs his flotilla was f*cking with were armed with nukes)).

      Don’t kid yourself.

  2. It seems so Trumpian to declare an election/referendum a “sham” before it is over – what if the residents vote NO, will that be a “sham”, too? Guess it’s only a “sham” when you don’t want it to go the way you want …

    1. Do you know that this region has a sizable ethnic Russian population — targeted by Zelensky’s forces?

  3. I believe tactical nukes will be used. No other source for that than my gut. If so, Ukraine has no choice but accept the knife to the throat.

  4. We’ve pointed out Zelensky’s apparent agenda of the “ethnic cleansing” of Russian Ukrainians in the eastern half of the country, largely financed by the US. What response did the US expect from Russia?

  5. The U.S. transparently budgets $800 billion per year on military spending and spends many more billions on contingencies like wars, intelligence, and what it calls special operations. Russia spends $68 billion per year.

    U.S. weapons are the highest of high-tech. They are what the U.S. spends its money on: not high speed rail, Medicare for all, affordable housing, free post-secondary education, etc.

    The basis of Russia’s self-defense is MAD. It spends its money developing its economy, raising the standard of living in remote areas in its vast expanse, and growing its middle class.

    The U.S. empire, whose raison d’etre is to dominate the world militarily, has been beating into the minds of the American people daily that “Putin!” is bent on dominating the world militarily. Tens of millions of Americans will threaten to kill you if you disagree.

  6. I don’t think that It is whole new war.

    Instead it seems to be continuation of SMO with bringing Russian troop levels to par with Ukrainian army. Nobody officially cancelled or declared SMO completed.

    The Putin’s mobilization concerns small percentage of reservists and only in specialties SMO requires. The 300,000 limited mobilization in comparison to 2.2 million military in active duty (14%) in no way is sufficient for occupation of all Ukraine and required regime change friendly to Russia.

    General military reserve mobilization would include conscripts and general population of reservists all ages reaching 25 millions. Truly general mobilization of entire population including women as Kiev regime has done, would produce at up to 50 million Russian armed forces.

    To take Ukraine Russians would need 1.5-1.8 million soldiers (3 to 1) to defeat 600,000+ AFU which is norm for US invasions according to Scot Ritter.

    Putin did not do that even if he could, and did not really escalated the conflict but strengthen SMO levels enabled to hold the controlled territory with some expansion perhaps in Nikolayev, Odessa, Kryvij Rog direction and demilitarized zone 100 km deep including perhaps Kharkov and Sumy along border with Ukraine. For that such marginal mobilization could be effective.

    Such forces can easily be accommodated economically without significant impact on 50% Russian government budget Surplus this year and following years as commodity Russia exports will maintain extremely high levels of prices according to Bloomberg and could not be effectively sanctioned without blockade and direct war with the west as no effective ban on Russian gas and oil or agricultural export of grains and Potash is even planned by US or EU.

    What this mobilization does however is continuing the process of subordination of Russian MIC to government control which means canceling export contracts and compelling Armament industry to produce only hardware government ordered based on cost-plus scheme.

    And that means massive upgrade of smart technology and money for replacing old cruise and ballistic missiles, dumped on Ukraine, with latest in home made Russian technology including variety of hypersonic missiles (ICBMs too) and S500 missile defense systems capable of destroying US ICBMs and low orbit satellites. Elon Musk should worry and perhaps step back from supporting Kiev Nazi regime with his satellites based internet technology.

    Pentagon already recognized that US is not protected and will be largely destroyed in case of nuclear war with Russia.

    In circumstances of peace Putin would have never been able to get sufficient funding for modernization of Russian military on such enormous scale. Unlike US lend-lease. programs no profiteering is allowed in Russia in order to reduce total costs.

    Putin’s decision regarding MIC clearly indicates end of hope for Peace with Kiev regime of western puppets and preparations for direct conflict with NATO neither side is fully prepared in fact US and especially EU is almost completely unprepared as they effectively disarmed themselves from much of conventional weaponry.

    On political side it is worth to note that Putin received tacit go ahead for SMO from Xi in February just few weeks before intervention so he received another tacit go-ahead for recent mobilization of reserves at sidelines of SCO meeting in Uzbekistan.

    In fact those consultations with Xi define in large part Putin’s extraordinary restrain as in February Xi insisted that Russian intervention was to be used to force Kiev regime to negotiating table and recognition of Donbas and Crimea as Russian sovereign territory so China can finally recognize Crimea as part of RF.

    In recent meeting it became clear to Xi that there won’t be any negotiated peace and that events in Ukraine and recent Taiwan provocations and de facto abandonment of US strategic ambiguity serve as a prelude to global confrontation of US, its allies Japan, Australia and NZ and NATO with China and Russia. Interestingly South Korea did not outright commit to such coalition that includes Japan historical enemy that just in XX century brutally occupied Korea for 45 years as it did in the past numerous times. In the same time NK declared itself as supporting of EuroAsian alliance. In fact Russia and China is about to abandon UN section regime against NK and fully normalize relations with NK which workers Russia wants to use not to fight but to rebuild former Ukraine territories of Donbas, Kherson, Zaporozhye. One might note that obviously such NK workforce consists of highly trained reserve soldiers ready to take up Russian made arms in no time as everybody in NK is militarily trained.

    Like in early XX century today failed western liberalism of bourgeois -liberal democratic political framework collapses into force promoting authoritarianism and global fascism. Democratic forces are being eradicated and that mostly relates to genuine political left in East and west. Russia as much as US and the west follow Chinese path to totally controlling media in their countries.

    This is not ideological confrontation of democracy with totalitarianism but global oligarchic competition war for limited earth’s human and natural Resources. It is that simple.

    The only possibility of capital global expansion today which is capitalism imperative, is to take over global markets already controlled by other global oligarchs, here it means Chinese, Russian and partially Indian.

    The geopolitical face of such brutal global competition among oligarchs is not Cold War 2.0 but Hot global war as all negotiation paths have been severed by the west set on defending US empire domination and prevent loss of global relevance in de facto multipolar world of today west wants to deny.

    War is coming.

  7. USA as always will surrender—ukraine no longer exists; the most productive regions now formally re-integrates into Russia. Sanctions harm EU, USA not Russia -now benefiiting from most export revenue in history…bumbling US policies again fail. following mobilization and winter—in 6 months surrender or Kiev demolished—zelensky in villa Italy

  8. KALEN:A very skillfull.analyis of the world’s political.and military situation.Now I am.really.frightened about our future or lack.of it.Somehow I do not have confidence in Biden,Pelosi and their cohorts to avoid a World War that possibly.can end civilization.There is money to be made in war products.The Capitalists and war profiteers not care who.dies as long as the profits are huge.

  9. Thanks Kalen, that is very insightful. I just hope sense will prevail in the west. The sad part is that there was a deal agreed to by both Russia and Ukraine in the spring which Ukraine was stopped from accepting. Johnson went to Kiev, presumably under orders from Washington, to tell Zelensky to drop it. Considering the tens of thousands of Ukraine soldiers (some estimates of over 70,000 killed) who have been killed or maimed, this would appear to be a totally irrational move by Zelensky and the Ukraine government . So who is governing Ukraine? Not Ukraines, I think. In fact, does Ukraine really exist. There are stories that Poland wants its historical territories returned, Zelensky’s land reform resulted in large parts of Ukraine agricultural land sold to foreign private equity, the IMF stopped housing subsidies to Ukraine people so their housing costs more than doubled. If I were Ukraine, I’d want to join Russia because I’d propably be much better off. In fact, about three million Ukraines have gone to Russia as refugees.
    I read somewhere that most Ukraines understand if not speak Russian, and their education and professional/trade qualifications are recognized on par by Russia. I have a lot of respect for Putin and Lavrov and I think that their vision of multipolarity and respect is the only way the planet can progress peacefully and sustainably. I read Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock doctrine recently and can recommend it, just don’t read it before bed – you won’t sleep!

  10. There is some irony with regard to Putin, and his ilk, bubbling to the surface now that Russia is in clear violation – no ifs, ands, or buts about it – of International Law. He, and his political supporters, seem to be willing to try anything to “win.” He has used religion as a fall back for his behavior, I wonder if he really believes he will go to heaven?

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