The Kremlin announces the results of the vote: votes in favor of annexation

KYIV, Ukraine — The last day of voting was Tuesday in the Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine, in predetermined referendums that are expected to serve as a pretext for their annexation by Moscow.

The Kremlin claimed that residents of much of the country overwhelmingly supported joining Russia in organized referendums that the United States and its Western allies have called illegitimate.

Pro-Moscow officials said Ukraine’s four occupied regions had voted to join Russia. According to electoral officials based in Russia, 93% of the votes cast in the Zaporizhzhia region were in favor of annexation, as were 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.

In a remark that seemed to rule out any negotiations, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky told the UN Security Council via video from Kyiv that Russia’s attempts to annex Ukrainian territory would mean « there is nothing to discuss with this President of Russia ».

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

Referendums began on September 23, often with armed officials going door to door collecting votes. The ballots asked residents if they wanted the areas to be incorporated into Russia.

The Kremlin portrayed these referendums 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 footage shared by those who remained showed armed Russian troops going door to door to pressure Ukrainians to vote.

Polling stations were closed on Tuesday afternoon after five days of voting, Moscow-backed officials in the four occupied regions of southern and eastern Ukraine said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address the Russian parliament about the referendums on Friday, and Valentina Matviyenko, who chairs the upper house of parliament, said lawmakers could consider an annexation law on October 4.

Meanwhile, Russia has escalated warnings that it may deploy nuclear weapons to defend its territory, including newly acquired lands, and has continued to mobilize more than 250,000 additional troops to deploy to a front line of more than 1000 km.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that after the polls « the situation will change dramatically from the legal point of view and from the point of view of international law, with all the corresponding consequences for the protection of these areas and the guarantee of their safety.

Many Western leaders have called the referendum a sham, and the UN Security Council was due to meet later Tuesday in New York to discuss a resolution that says the results of the vote will never be accepted and that the four regions remain part of Ukraine. Russia is certain to veto the resolution.

Well-known Russian strategy

The vote and recall of Russian army reservists that Mr Putin ordered last Wednesday is aimed at bolstering Moscow’s exposed military and political positions.

These referendums are part of a well-known Kremlin strategy for territorial expansion and more aggressive military action. In 2014, Russian authorities held a similar referendum on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, under the close watch of Russian troops. Based on the vote, Russia annexed Crimea. Mr Putin invoked the defense of Russians living in the eastern regions of Ukraine, their supposed desires to unite with Russia and an existential threat to Russia’s security as a pretext for his invasion of Ukraine on 24 february.

Furthermore, Vladimir Putin has been talking about Moscow’s nuclear option since the Ukrainians launched a counter-offensive which has recovered territory and monopolized more and more of its forces. A senior Mr Putin official stepped up the nuclear rhetoric on Tuesday.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, chaired by Mr Putin, spelled out the threat in the most blunt terms yet on Tuesday.

“Let us imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime which has committed a large-scale act of aggression, which is dangerous for the very existence of our state, wrote Mr. Medvedev on his messaging app channel. I believe that NATO will avoid directly interfering in the conflict in this case.”

The US called the Kremlin’s nuclear talk a scare tactic.

China says the UN Security Council should help negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the country was ready to work with the rest of the international community to defuse the fighting.

China has tacitly supported Russia’s claim that it was provoked into the conflict by the United States and NATO, but has not recognized Russia’s territorial claims in Ukraine.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, who left the port city after the Russians seized it after a months-long siege, said only around 20% of the estimated remaining 100,000 residents voted in Donetsk’s 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?” raised Mr Boychenko at a press conference, explaining how people were coerced into voting.

Imposture according to Westerners

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

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the ballot papers were “a desperate move” by Mr Putin.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was the latest high-ranking foreign official to visit Kyiv on Tuesday, saying Paris was determined “to support Ukraine, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.”

Elsewhere, trouble has emerged for Vladimir Putin amid the massive call for Russians to actively serve in the military.

The order sparked an exodus of nearly 200,000 men from Russia, fueling anti-war protests and provoking violence.

On Monday, a gunman opened fire at an enlistment office in a Siberian town and seriously injured the local military recruiting chief. The shooting came after scattered arson attacks on recruiting offices.

One of the destinations for Russian men on the run is Kazakhstan, which reported on Tuesday that around 98,000 Russians have entered the country in the past week.

The European Union Border and Coast Guard agency says 66,000 Russian citizens entered the group of 27 countries from September 19 to 25, a 30% increase from the previous week .

Russian officials attempted to intercept some of the fleeing reservists on one of the main outflow routes, distributing recruitment notices at the Georgian border. According to the Tass public agency, around 5,500 cars were queuing to cross the border.

Independent Russian news sources reported unconfirmed claims that men of military age would be banned from leaving after the referendum.

As Moscow scrambled to reinforce its troops in Ukraine, the Ukrainian presidential office revealed that at least 11 civilians were killed and 18 others injured in 24 hours by the latest Russian bombardment.

In other developments, the Ukrainian authorities have reported new successes in their counter-offensive aimed at reclaiming territories in some of the regions where Russia is holding referendums to consolidate its hold.

Ukrainian troops claimed to continue their advance across the Oskil River in the east of the country, pushing further into the Donbass region. On Tuesday, a video on social media showed Ukrainian soldiers entering the village of Koroviy Yar, 15 kilometers from the river. Ukrainian military intelligence said the country’s forces continued to force Russian troops out of the northeast Kharkiv region and claimed to retake the main Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi railway junction.

United Nations review of abuses

The human toll of the war was also reflected in the first comprehensive examination by a United Nations human rights monitoring mission of violations and abuses committed by Russia and Ukraine between February 1 and July 31, the first five months of the Russian invasion.

Matilda Bogner, head of the mission, said Ukrainian prisoners of war appeared to have suffered « systematic » ill-treatment, « not only during their capture, but also after their transfer to places of internment » in the areas under Russian control of Ukraine and of Russia itself.

The war has caused an energy shortage in much of Western Europe, with German officials seeing the disruption of Russian supplies as a Kremlin power play to pressure Europe over its support for the Ukraine.

Germany’s economy ministry said on Tuesday that the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe reported a drop in pressure, just hours after a leak was reported in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. in the Baltic Sea off Denmark. Both pipelines were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Europe.

The danger to energy supplies increased when seismologists reported on Tuesday that explosions rocked the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered at two undersea gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany.

Some European leaders and experts have spoken of possible sabotage in an energy standoff with Russia sparked by the war in Ukraine. The three leaks were reported on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which are filled with natural gas but do not deliver 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 to bring them into service emerges, Eurasia Group analysts said.

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