- Russia says overwhelming support for annexation
- Russian parliament considers annexation on Tuesday
- Ukraine rejects referendums as illegal
- West prepares new sanctions over referendums
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine, Sept. 29 (Reuters) – Russia was poised to annex part of Ukraine within days, releasing so-called voting figures showing overwhelming support in four provinces to join the country, after what Ukraine and denounced the West as illegal mock referendums held at gunpoint.
A stage with giant video screens has been set up in Moscow’s Red Square, with billboards reading “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson – Russia!”
The head of the upper house of the Russian parliament said it could consider integrating the four partially occupied regions on October 4, three days before President Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday.
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The Russian-installed governments of the four provinces have formally asked Putin to include them in Russia, which Russian officials say is a formality.
“This should happen within a week,” Rodion Miroshnik, the Russian-installed ambassador to Moscow of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, told state news agency RIA.
“The most important thing has already happened – the referendum has taken place. So let’s say: the locomotive has already started and it is unlikely that it will be stopped.”
To annex the territories, which represent about 15% of Ukraine, some kind of treaty must be signed and ratified by the Russian parliament, which is controlled by Putin allies. The territories will then be seen as part of Russia and the nuclear umbrella will extend to them.
Putin has warned that he would use nuclear weapons to protect Russian territory from attack. read more
‘NO ONE VOTED’
Residents who have escaped to Ukrainian-occupied areas in recent days have said people were forced at gunpoint to mark their ballots in the streets. Footage filmed during the exercise showed Russian-installed officials carrying ballot boxes from house to house with gunmen in tow.
“They can announce anything they want. No one voted in the referendum, except a few people who changed sides. They went from house to house, but nobody came out,” said Lyubomir Boyko, 43, from Golo Pristan, a village in Russian-occupied Kherson. province.
Russia says voting was voluntary, in accordance with international law, and turnout was high. The referendums and the idea of annexations have been rejected worldwide, as has Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought international support against annexation in a series of talks with foreign leaders, including those from Britain, Canada, Germany and Turkey.
“Thank you all for your clear and unequivocal support. Thank you all for understanding our position,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late at night.
The United States has unveiled a $1.1 billion weapons package for Ukraine that consists of 18 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, associated munitions, various types of counter-drone systems and radar systems. The announcement brings US security assistance to $16.2 billion.
The United States has also said it would also impose new sanctions on Russia before the referenda and the European Union executive has proposed more sanctions, but the bloc’s 27 member states will have to overcome their own differences to implement them.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia should keep fighting until it takes control of all of Donetsk. About 40% is still under Ukrainian control.
Russia has announced it will mobilize some 300,000 reservists to bolster its forces in Ukraine. Thousands of Russian men have fled to other countries because of conscription.
On the ground, Ukraine and Russian forces are engaged in fierce fighting, especially in the Donetsk region, where the governor said six civilians were killed in Russian attacks on Wednesday.
In the past 24 hours, Russia launched three missiles and eight airstrikes, carrying out more than 82 strikes from missile-burst systems at military and civilian sites, the Ukrainian army said early Thursday.
The Ukrainian Air Force carried out 16 strikes on Wednesday, damaging or destroying a number of Russian positions, while ground forces destroyed two command posts.
Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said three people were killed in Russian shelling of Dnipro, the region’s capital, including a 12-year-old girl, and more than 60 buildings were damaged.
“Rescue workers carried her from the damaged house where she was sleeping when a Russian missile hit,” he said on his Telegram channel.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
Leaking gas bubbled up in the Baltic for a third day after suspected explosions ruptured undersea pipelines built by Russia and European partners to send natural gas to Europe.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, once the main route for Russian gas to Germany, was already closed, but can’t easily be reopened now.
NATO and the European Union warned of the need to protect critical infrastructure from what they called “sabotage”, though officials failed to blame.
Russia’s FSB security service is investigating the damage to the pipelines as “international terrorism,” according to the Interfax news agency.
The Nord Stream pipelines have been hotbeds in an expanding energy war between Russia and European countries that has damaged Western economies and sent gas prices soaring.
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Reporting by Reuters agencies; Written by Michael Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel
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