After Ukrainian gains, occupied territories announce votes to join Russia.

Officials in occupied parts of southern and eastern Ukraine who are supported by the Kremlin declared on Tuesday that votes on formally joining Russia would take place this week. Moscow applauded the announcement, but Kyiv dismissed it as a last-ditch effort to stop the advance of a successful counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces.

In the meantime, Russia’s parliament approved a bill to toughen penalties for a variety of offences, including desertion, if they are committed during times of mobilisation or martial law. President Vladimir Putin also pushed defence sector leaders to increase military production.

The sudden burst of activity suggested that the Kremlin might be getting ready to drastically change how it is handling a fight that has stretched on for nearly seven months and has recently tipped away from its forces. Its supporters in the public relished in the idea of a “all-out war” and a fresh conflict with the West, which had previously warned that conducting “fake” elections in those regions would amount to an illegal escalation.

Analysts speculate that the abrupt actions may reflect a growing concern over how long Russia’s failing military can keep control over the territory it has conquered. It is unclear what effect conducting such polls would have on the ground.

Russian state news outlet Tass stated that separatist officials in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as the southern Kherson region and partially seized Zaporizhzhia, declared they will hold the elections over four days beginning on Friday.

*image does not represent the actual scenario.