Kremlin announces vote and paves the way to annex part of Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine –

The Kremlin paved the way on Tuesday to annex more territory from Ukraine and escalate the war by saying residents of a large part of the country overwhelmingly supported joining Russia in organized referendums that the United States and its Western allies have dismissed as illegitimate.

Pro-Moscow officials said Ukraine’s four occupied regions voted to join Russia. According to the Russian-installed election officials, 93 percent of the votes cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87 percent in the Kherson region, 98 percent in the Luhansk region and 99 percent in Donetsk. Possibly the explanation for the lower favorable vote in Kherson is that the Russian authorities have confronted a strong Ukrainian underground resistance movement whose members have assassinated Moscow-appointed officials and threatened those who considered voting.

In a comment that seemed to rule out negotiations, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy told the UN Security Council by video from Kyiv that Russia’s attempts to annex Ukrainian territory will mean “there is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia.” .

He added that “any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that consider the inviolability of the border to be vital to them.”

The default outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia’s seven-month war, with the Kremlin threatening to send more troops into battle and potentially use nuclear weapons.

Referendums in which residents were asked whether they wanted the four occupied regions of southern and eastern Ukraine to join Russia began on September 23, often with armed officials collecting votes door-to-door.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address the Russian parliament on the referendums on Friday, and Valentina Matviyenko, who heads the body’s upper house, said lawmakers could consider annexation legislation on Oct. 4.

Meanwhile, Russia stepped up warnings that it might deploy nuclear weapons to defend its territory, including newly acquired land, and continued to mobilize more than a quarter of a million additional troops to deploy to a front line of more than 1,000 km (more of 620 miles). .

After the vote, “the situation will change radically from the legal point of view, from the point of view of international law, with all the corresponding consequences for the protection of those areas and guaranteeing their security,” the Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday. , Dmitry Peskov.

Many Western leaders have called the referendum a farce, and the UN Security Council met Tuesday in New York to discuss the vote, with the US and Albania planning to introduce a resolution saying the results will never be accepted. and that all four regions remain a party. of Ukraine Russia will surely veto the resolution.

The vote and call-up of Russian military reservists ordered by Putin last Wednesday are aimed at bolstering Moscow’s exposed military and political positions.

The referendums follow a familiar Kremlin playbook for territorial expansion and more aggressive military action. In 2014, Russian authorities held a similar referendum on the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine, under close surveillance by Russian troops. On the basis of the vote, Russia annexed Crimea. Putin cited defense of Russians living in Ukraine’s eastern regions, their alleged desire to join Russia and an existential threat to Russia’s security as a pretext for his February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Putin has been talking about Moscow’s nuclear option ever since the Ukrainians launched a counteroffensive that recaptured territory and increasingly cornered his forces. A senior adviser to Putin stepped up the nuclear rhetoric on Tuesday.

“Imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime that has committed a large-scale act of aggression, which is dangerous for the very existence of our state,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Security Council of Ukraine. Russia. who presides over Putin, wrote in the channel of his messaging application. “I think NATO will stay away from direct meddling in the conflict.”

The United States has dismissed the Kremlin’s nuclear talk as a scare tactic.

The referendums asked residents if they wanted the areas to be incorporated into Russia, and the Kremlin described them as free and fair, reflecting people’s desire for self-determination.

Tens of thousands of residents had already fled the regions due to the war, and images shared by those who stayed showed armed Russian troops going from door to door to pressure Ukrainians to vote.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, who left the port city after the Russians took it after a months-long siege, said only about 20 percent of the estimated remaining 100,000 residents voted in the Donetsk referendum. Mariupol’s pre-war population was 541,000.

“A man with an assault rifle comes to your house and asks you to vote, so what can people do?” Boychenko asked during a news conference, explaining how people were forced to vote.

Western allies sided firmly with Ukraine, dismissing the referendum votes as a meaningless farce.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the ballots were “a desperate move” by Putin. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said during her visit to Kyiv on Tuesday that France was determined to “support Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity” and described the votes as “mock referendums.”

Elsewhere, problems arose for Putin in the massive call-up that ordered Russians into active military service.

The order triggered an exodus of nearly 200,000 men from Russia, fueled anti-war protests and sparked violence. On Monday, a gunman opened fire at an enlistment office in a Siberian city, seriously wounding the local military recruiter. Scattered arson fires had previously been reported at other enlistment offices.

One of the destinations for fleeing Russian men is Kazakhstan, which reported Tuesday that some 98,000 Russians crossed into Kazakhstan in the last week.

The European Union’s border and coast guard agency says 66,000 Russian citizens entered the 27-nation bloc from September 19 to 25, a 30 percent increase from the previous week.

Russian officials tried to intercept some of the fleeing reservists on one of the main exodus routes and issued recruitment notices on the Georgian border. According to the state agency Tass, an enlistment task force was handing out notices at the Verkhnii Lars checkpoint, where some 5,500 cars were lining up to cross. Independent Russian news sources have reported unconfirmed claims that men of conscription age will be banned from leaving after the referendum.

As Moscow worked to increase its troops in Ukraine, potentially sending them to supplement its proxies who have been fighting in breakaway regions for the past eight years, Russian bombing continued to claim lives. Russian shelling killed at least 11 civilians and wounded 18 in 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office said on Tuesday.

In other developments, Ukrainian authorities have reported more success in their counteroffensive to recapture territory in some of the same regions where Russia is staging referendums to consolidate its control.

Ukrainian troops claimed to continue their advance beyond the Oskil River in the east of the country, pressing further into the Donbas. A video on social media on Tuesday showed Ukrainian soldiers entering the town of Koroviy Yar, 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) from the river. Ukraine’s military intelligence said the country’s forces continued to push Russian troops out of the northeastern Kharkiv region and claimed to recapture the main Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi railway junction.

The human cost of the war was also reflected in the first comprehensive look by a UN human rights monitoring mission into the violations and abuses that Russia and Ukraine committed between February 1 and July 31, the first five months of the Russian invasion.

Matilda Bogner, the head of the mission, said Ukrainian prisoners of war appeared to have faced “systematic” ill-treatment “not only after their capture, but also after their transfer to places of internment” in Russian-controlled areas in Ukraine and Russia itself.

The war has sparked an energy crisis across much of Western Europe, with German officials seeing the disruption of Russian supplies as a power play by the Kremlin to pressure Europe into supporting Ukraine.

The danger to energy supplies increased as seismologists reported Tuesday that explosions rocked the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered in two underwater natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany. Some European leaders and experts have pointed to possible sabotage during an energy standoff with Russia sparked by the war in Ukraine. The three leaks were reported from the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which are filled with natural gas but do not deliver the fuel to Europe.

The damage means the pipelines are unlikely to be able to transport gas to Europe this winter, even if the political will emerges to bring them online, analysts at the Eurasia Group said.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations in New York contributed.

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