- Russia says it has overwhelming support for the merger
- The Russian parliament is expected to consider the merger on Tuesday
- Ukraine has rejected the referendum as illegal
- West seeks new ban on referendums
Zaporizhia, Ukraine, Sept 29 (Reuters) – Russia is poised to annex Ukraine within days after what Ukraine and the West condemned as illegal and rigged referendums. At gunpoint.
In Moscow’s Red Square, a stage is set up with giant video screens that read “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson – Russia!”
The head of the upper house of the Russian parliament said on October 4, three days before President Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday, that annexation of the four partially occupied territories could be considered.
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The Russian-installed administrations of the four provinces have asked Putin to formally annex them into Russia, which Russian officials have suggested is a formality.
“It should happen within a week,” Rodion Miroshnik, Russia’s ambassador to Moscow of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, told the RIA state news agency.
“The important thing has already happened – the referendum has taken place. So, let’s say: the engine has already started and it is unlikely to stop.”
The annexation of the territories, which represent about 15% of Ukraine, would require some kind of agreement and approval by the Russian parliament, which is controlled by Putin’s allies. Then those areas will be seen as part of Russia and its nuclear umbrella will be extended to them.
Putin has warned that he will use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory from attack. read more
‘No one voted’
People who have fled to Ukrainian-controlled areas in recent days have said they were forced to mark ballots in the street with officers roaming around at gunpoint. Footage captured during the exercise showed Russian-installed officers carrying ballot boxes door-to-door with armed men.
“They can announce whatever they want. Except for a few people, no one voted in the referendum. They went door to door, but no one came out,” said Lyubomir Boyko, 43, from the village of Kolo Priston in Russian-occupied Kherson. Province.
Russia says the vote was voluntary under international law and that turnout was high. As with Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the idea of referendums and annexations has been universally rejected.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sought to rally international support against the annexation in a series of calls with foreign leaders, including Britain, Canada, Germany and Turkey.
“Thank you all for your clear and unequivocal support. Thank you all for understanding our position,” Zelensky said in a late-night video address.
The United States unveiled a $1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine, including 18 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, accompanying ammunition, various types of anti-drone systems and radar systems. The announcement brings US defense assistance to $16.2 billion.
The US has also said it will impose new sanctions on Russia over the referendum and the European Union’s 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 must continue to fight until it controls all of Donetsk. About 40% is still under Ukrainian control.
Russia has announced it will mobilize around 300,000 reservists to bolster its forces in Ukraine. The invasion movement caused thousands of Russian men to flee to other countries.
On the ground, Ukrainian and Russian forces are engaged in heavy fighting, particularly in the Donetsk region, where six civilians were killed in Russian attacks on Wednesday, the governor said.
In the past 24 hours, Russia has launched three missile and eight airstrikes, including more than 82 strikes from rocket salvo systems on military and civilian targets, Ukraine’s military said early Thursday.
Ukraine’s air force carried out 16 strikes on Wednesday, damaging or destroying several Russian positions, while the ground force destroyed two command posts, it said.
Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, said Russian shelling on the region’s capital, Dnipro, killed three people, including a 12-year-old girl, and damaged more than 60 buildings.
“Rescuers carried her out of the damaged house where she was sleeping when the Russian missile hit,” he said on his Telegram channel.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
Gas bubbles bubbled into the Baltic Sea for a third day after suspected explosions in undersea pipelines built by Russia and its European partners to send natural gas to Europe.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, once the main route for Russian gas to Germany, has already been shut down, but cannot now be easily reopened.
NATO and the European Union have warned of the need to protect critical infrastructure from what they call “sabotage”, although officials have stopped short of blaming.
Russia’s FSB security service is investigating the damage to the pipelines as “international terrorism,” Interfax news agency quoted the general prosecutor’s office as saying.
Nord Stream pipelines have been flashpoints in the widening energy war between Russia and European nations that has damaged Western economies and driven up gas prices.
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Report by Reuters Bureau; Written by Michael Perry; Editing by Robert Birzel
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