Russia ready to annex occupied Ukraine after mock vote

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia stood ready to formally annex parts of Ukraine on Wednesday where occupied territories held a Kremlin-orchestrated “referendum” – denounced by Kiev and the West as illegal and manipulated – on life under Moscow’s rule.

Armed troops had gone door-to-door with election officials gathering votes within five days. The results have been widely ridiculed as improbable and characterized as land grabs by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership after embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.

Moscow-installed governments in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine claimed on Tuesday evening that residents had voted to join Russia.

“Forcing people in these areas to fill out papers with the barrel of a gun is yet another Russian crime in the course of its aggression against Ukraine,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said, adding that the vote was “a propaganda show.” ” was and “zero and worthless.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the 27 member states of the European Union to impose more sanctions on Russian officials and trade over the “mock referendum”. She labeled the ballots “an illegal attempt to seize land and change international borders by force”.

The ballot was “forged” and the outcome “implausibly claimed” residents had agreed to rule from Moscow, the Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said.

Pro-Russian officials in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya regions said on Wednesday they would ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to include their provinces with Russia. Separatist leaders Leonid Pasechnik in Luhansk and Denis Pushilin in Donetsk said they would leave for Moscow to settle the annexation formalities.

According to Russian-installed election officials, 93% of the votes cast in the Zaporizhzhya region supported the annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.

Western countries, however, rejected the vote as a senseless pretense staged by Moscow in an attempt to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine launched on February 24.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington would propose a Security Council resolution condemning the “mock vote”. The resolution would also urge member states not to recognize an altered status of Ukraine and demand that Russia withdraw its troops from its neighboring country, she tweeted.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s head of foreign policy, called the vote “illegal” and described the results as “falsified”.

“This is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty (and) territorial integrity, (in the midst of) systematic violations of human rights,” he tweeted.

A statement from Ukraine’s foreign ministry asks the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven Major Industrialized Countries to “immediately and significantly” increase pressure on Russia with new sanctions and by significantly increasing their military aid to Kiev .

The Kremlin remained unmoved amid the rain of criticism. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was planning at the very least to expel Ukrainian troops from the Donetsk region, where Moscow and separatist forces currently control about 60% of the territory.

Russia is calling on 300,000 reservists to fight in the war and warned it could resort to nuclear weapons after Ukraine’s counter-offensive this month inflicted heavy setbacks on Moscow’s forces on the battlefield. The partial mobilization is very unpopular in some areas, but leads to protests and widespread violence and Russians fleeing the country by the tens of thousands.

The mobilization prompted the US embassy in Moscow to warn Americans in Russia to leave immediately because “Russia can refuse to recognize US dual citizenship, deny them access to US consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia and enroll dual citizens for military service. .” Earlier embassy security warnings also advised Americans to leave, as they could be harassed and have difficulty obtaining consular assistance.

The EU expressed its outrage at the alleged sabotage Tuesday of two underwater natural gas pipelines from Russia to Germany and warned of retaliation for any attack on Europe’s energy networks.

Borrell said that “all available information indicates that those leaks are the result of an intentional act,” although the perpetrators have not been identified so far.

“Any intentional disruption to Europe’s energy infrastructure is completely unacceptable and will be met with a strong and united response,” Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the EU’s 27 member states.

Kremlin spokesman Peskov said the allegations that Russia could be behind the incidents were “predictable and stupid”, and said the damage caused Russia huge economic losses.

The war has sparked an energy conflict between the EU, many of whose members have been heavily dependent on Russia’s natural gas supplies for years, and Moscow.

Due to the damage, analysts say it is unlikely that the pipelines will be able to supply gas to Europe this winter.

Ukrainian military and Western analysts said Russia is sending troops to the front lines without any training.

In a briefing, the Ukrainian Army General Staff said that the 1st Tank Regiment of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Tank Army of Russia has received untrained new troops.

The Ukrainian army also said detainees are strengthening Russian lines. It offered no evidence to support the claim, although Ukrainian security services released audio of allegedly monitored Russian phone conversations about the matter.

The Institute for the Study of War quoted an online video of a man identifying himself as a member of the 1st Tank Regiment, visibly upset, saying he and his colleagues would receive no training before heading to the Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson River. -region.

“It is unlikely that mobilized men with a day or two of training will meaningfully strengthen Russian positions hit by Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south and east,” the institute said.

The British Ministry of Defense said Ukraine’s counter-offensive is progressing slowly and meeting a stronger Russian defence.

In the partially occupied Donetsk region, five people have died and ten others have been injured in the past 24 hours, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the local military authority.

Authorities in the southern Ukrainian city of Nikopol said Russian missiles and artillery shelled the city at night.

The city, across the Dnieper River from the Russian-occupied territory, saw 10 high-rise and private buildings, as well as a school, power lines and other areas, said Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of the local military administration.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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