KYIV, Ukraine (TN) — The Kremlin on Tuesday paved the way for an escalation of the war and annexation of more of Ukraine, claiming that a large contingent of residents joined Russia in a forum-managed referendum. heavily supported, which was rejected by the US and its Western allies as illegitimate. ,
Pro-Moscow officials said all four occupied territories of Ukraine voted to join Russia. According to election officials established by Russia, 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhya region supported the merger, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk. Perhaps the explanation for the less favorable vote in Kherson is that Russian officials have faced a strong Ukrainian underground resistance movement whose members have killed Moscow-appointed officials and threatened voters.
In a remark that appeared to deny talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the UN Security Council by video from Kyiv that Russia’s efforts to annex Ukraine’s territory would mean “the need to talk with this Russian president.” There’s nothing to do.”
He said that “any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that regard border violence as important to themselves.”
The predetermined outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia’s seven-month war, with the Kremlin threatening to throw more troops into the war and potentially use nuclear weapons.
The referendum asked residents whether they wanted the four occupied southern and eastern Ukraine regions to be included in Russia, beginning on 23 September, with often armed officials going door-to-door to collect votes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address Russia’s parliament about the referendum on Friday, and Valentina Matvienko, who chairs the body’s upper house, said lawmakers could consider a merger law on October 4. .
Meanwhile, Russia warned that it could deploy nuclear weapons to defend its territory, including newly acquired land, and a quarter million to deploy to a 1,000-kilometre (more than 620 mi) frontline. continued to mobilize additional troops. ,
“After the vote, from the legal point of view, from the point of view of international law, the situation will change radically with all the relevant consequences for ensuring the security of those territories and their security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.
Many Western leaders have called the referendum a sham, and the United Nations Security Council met in New York on Tuesday to discuss the vote, with the US and Albania planning to introduce a resolution that says the outcome will never happen. will not be accepted and the four zones will remain. of Ukraine. Russia is certain to 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 position.
The referendum follows a familiar Kremlin playbook for territorial expansion and more aggressive military action. In 2014, Russian officials held a similar referendum on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula under the close supervision of Russian troops. Based on the vote, Russia annexed Crimea. Putin cited an existential security threat to Russia as the pretext of protecting Russians living in Ukraine’s eastern regions, his perceived desire to engage with Russia, and the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Putin has been talking about Moscow’s nuclear option ever since Ukrainians launched a retaliatory strike that reclaimed territory and swiftly surrounded their forces. A top Putin aide stepped up nuclear rhetoric on Tuesday.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said, “Let’s imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime, which has committed an act of massive aggression, which is a threat to the survival of our state.” dangerous for.” Putin wrote on his messaging app channel. “I believe that NATO will refrain from direct interference in the conflict.”
The US has dismissed the Kremlin nuclear talks as a scare tactic.
The referendum asked residents whether they wanted the regions to be included in Russia, and the Kremlin portrayed them as free and fair, reflecting the people’s desire for self-determination.
Tens of thousands of residents had already fled the areas because of the war, and images shared by those who remained showed armed Russian soldiers going door to door pressuring Ukrainians to vote.
Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko, who left the port city after the Russians seized it after a month-long siege, said only 20% of the estimated remaining 100,000 residents in the Donetsk referendum cast ballots. Mariupol had a pre-war population of 541,000.
“A man comes to your house with a rifle and asks you to vote, what can people do?” Boychenko asked during a press conference how people were forced to vote.
Western allies sided strongly with Ukraine, dismissing the referendum votes as a meaningless sham.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the ballots were “a desperate move” by Putin. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, visiting Kyiv on Tuesday, said France was “steadfast to support Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity” and described the ballots as a “fake referendum”.
Elsewhere, trouble struck Putin when he ordered the Russians to active military duty.
The order triggered the exodus of some 200,000 men from Russia, fueled anti-war protests and fueled violence. On Monday, a gunman opened fire at a recruitment office in a Siberian town and seriously injured the local chief military recruiting officer. Scattered arson attacks were reported earlier on other recruitment offices as well.
One destination for the Russian men’s escape is Kazakhstan, which reported Tuesday that about 98,000 Russians crossed into Kazakhstan. during the last week.
The European Union’s Border and Coast Guard Agency says 66,000 Russian nationals entered the 27-nation bloc from September 19 to 25, a 30% increase from the previous week.
Russian authorities tried to stop some of the fleeing reservists on one of the main escape routes, issuing recruitment notices on the Georgian border. According to the state-run toss agency, a recruiting task force was handing out notices at the Verkhni Lars checkpoint, where an estimated 5,500 cars were in line to cross. Independent Russian news sources have reported unconfirmed claims that draft-age men would be banned from leaving after the referendum.
As Moscow worked to build up its troops in Ukraine, potentially sending them to supplement its proxies who have been fighting in separatist areas for the past eight years, Russian shelling continued to claim lives. . Ukraine’s presidential office said on Tuesday that at least 11 civilians were killed and 18 injured in a Russian barrage in 24 hours.
In other developments, Ukrainian officials reported greater success in their retaliatory strikes to reclaim territory in some areas where Russia is holding a referendum to tighten its hold.
Ukrainian troops claimed the advance of the Oskil River in the east of the country into the Donbass. A video on social media on Tuesday showed Ukrainian soldiers entering the village of Korovy Yar, 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) from the river. Ukraine’s military intelligence said the country’s military continued to drive Russian troops out of the northeastern Kharkiv region and claimed to have reoccupied the key railway junction of Kupyansk-Vuzlovy.
The human toll of the war was also reflected in the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission’s first comprehensive look at the violations and abuses committed by Russia and Ukraine between 1 February and 31 July in the first five months of Russia’s invasion.
Mission chief Matilda Bogner said Ukrainian prisoners of war in the Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine and Russia suffered “systematic” abuse, “not only upon their capture, but also after their transfer to places of detention”.
The war has caused energy shortages in much of Western Europe, with German officials seeing disruptions in Russian supplies. To pressure Europe on its support for Ukraine as a Kremlin power play.
Threats to energy supplies increased after seismologists said Tuesday that explosions had rattled the Baltic Sea before the unusual leak was discovered. On two underwater natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany. Some European leaders and experts have pointed to possible sabotage during the energy standoff with Russia due to the war in Ukraine. Three leaks were reported on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which are filled with natural gas but not delivering fuel to Europe.
Analysts at Eurasia Group said the damage meant the pipelines are unlikely to be able to carry any gas to Europe this winter, even if political will emerges to bring them online.
Today Nation News journalist Edith M. Lederer contributed to the United Nations in New York.
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