Russian submarines retreat from Crimea after drone strike

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said it is “essential” that Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine carry out referendums that would see their regions join Russia.

In a post on social media, Mr Medvedev said making the Moscow-backed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics officially part of Russia was a vital step in protecting their interests and could further justify Russia’s use of military force to protect them.

On Monday, separatist leaders in the DPR and LPR agreed to “synchronise” efforts to stage referendums on joining Russia after local Russian-appointed officials stepped up their calls to hold the votes.

“Referendums in the Donbas are essential, not only for the systematic protection of residents of the LPR, DPR and other liberated territories, but also for the restoration of historic justice,” Mr Medvedev said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Mr Medvedev, who is now deputy chairman of Russia’s powerful Security Council, said Moscow should permit the regions to join Russia as it would give the Kremlin further justification its use of military force in Ukraine.

“Encroachment onto the territory of Russia is a crime which allows you to use all self-defence forces,” Mr Medvedev said.

“This is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and the West. This is why they need to be carried out.”