On Monday, Ukrainian officials said its forces liberated a village in Luhansk, depriving Russia of full control of the region.
The village sits just 7 miles west of the city of Lysychansk, which saw weeks of intense fighting between the two sides before falling to Russian troops this summer.
NBC News has not verified the claim.
“Russian leadership may be running out of ways to try to stop Ukrainian forces as they advance across the Oskil River and closer to Luhansk Oblast,” the Institute for the Study of War added in its Monday assessment. “The Kremlin may believe that partial annexation could drive recruitment of additional forces, both from within Russia and from within newly annexed Ukrainian territory.”
Putin has so far resisted calls from nationalist voices and pro-military bloggers for general mobilization, a move that could boost his ailing forces but may prove unpopular with the Russian public and come across as an admission that his campaign in Ukraine is failing.
One of the Kremlin’s most hawkish figures, former president Dmitry Medvedev, said Monday that holding the referendums is “of great importance,” while signaling that absorbing the Donbas provinces would make encroaching on them equivalent to striking Russia, raising the risk of further escalation if Ukrainian troops continue to advance in the area.
“They want to make the territories Russian proper so that then they can threaten with nuclear blackmail,” Lutsevych of Chatham House said.
The editor-in-chief of Kremlin-backed channel RT, Margarita Simonyan, who has been one of the most vocal proponents of the war, also invoked the idea of red lines, saying holding the referendums immediately and without delay was key.
“Today a referendum, tomorrow — recognition as part of the Russian Federation, the day after tomorrow — strikes on the territory of Russia become a full-fledged war between Ukraine and NATO with Russia, untying Russia’s hands in all respects,” she said in a post on Telegram.
News of the planned referendums was condemned by Kyiv.
“Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything,” said foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba. “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say,” he said in a tweet.
The head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, Andriy Yermak, said the referendums are part of Russia’s “naïve blackmail.”
“This is what the fear of defeat looks like,” Yermak wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
Source: CNBC News