The referendums on whether to request annexation into Russia have begun in Ukraine. In the east, voters will supposedly go to the polls to determine the future of Donetsk and Luhansk, while those in the south will have a similar say for the Russian-held areas of Kerson and Zaporizhia. In total, eighteen percent of Ukraine's territory might be lost to Russia if the referendums go the way they have been predicted.
The truth of the matter is that these referendums will be anything but free, given the fact that they will be conducted under military occupation. With so many of those in these regions living so close to the front lines, or having fled in the past months, it is very unlikely that such a hastily coordinated effort to hold the referendums will be fair or successful in getting the votes of residents.
Putin has publicly given his support for the referendums, stating that: "The parliaments of the people's republics of Donbas and the civil-military administration of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions decided to hold a referendum on the future of these territories. They have asked Russia to support this step, and we stressed that we will do everything to ensure the safe conditions for people to express their will."
As for what this might mean for the ongoing war, the comments made by Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov shed light on Russia's plan. According to Peskov, if the regions announce that the majority of their populations have indicated their support for joining the Russian Federation, the ratification process within Russia itself will be a swift one. Further, any attack to regain Ukrainian territory will, at that point, be an attack on Russia territory according to Peskov. Since the President of Russia has further stated that they would use "any means at our disposal" in order to protect the territorial integrity of Russia, it stands to reason that Putin might use any continued Ukrainian offensives to justify the mobilization of greater portions of the Russian population for the war.
Regardless, military aid will continue flowing into Ukraine. The European Union itself has, like the United States and Ukraine, stated they will not recognize the referendums. In addition, the European Union has also signaled that it is in the process of creating a new set of sanctions to be directed against Russia. At this point, however, they likely won't be enough to prevent Russia's recent actions from continuing.