KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia stood ready to formally annex parts of Ukraine on Wednesday after he claimed voters in areas where it has military control had overwhelmingly agreed to life under Moscow’s rule.
Armed forces went door-to-door collecting ballots during five days of voting in Kremlin-organized referendums asking whether the occupied territories should become part of Russia. Western observers characterized the voices as land grabs by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership after a series of embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.
Moscow-installed governments in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine claimed on Tuesday evening that their residents had voted to join Russia in the so-called referendums.
“Forcing people in these areas to fill out papers with the barrel of a rifle is yet another Russian crime in the context of its aggression against Ukraine,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
The ministry called the ballots “a propaganda show” and “zero and worthless.”
Pro-Russian officials in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya regions rushed into action on Wednesday, saying they would ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to take the provinces into Russia. It was not immediately clear how the administrative process would proceed.
However, Western countries have rejected the ballots 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 late Tuesday that Washington would propose a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s “sham 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, also weighed in on the ballots, calling them “illegal” on Wednesday and describing the results as “falsified”.
“This is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty (and) territorial integrity, (in the midst of) systematic violations of human rights,” Borrell tweeted.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry statement asks the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven Major Industrialized Countries to “immediately and significantly” increase pressure on Russia through new sanctions, and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine increase.
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.
The Kremlin, however, remained unmoved by the rain of criticism. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia planned at the very least to expel Ukrainian troops from the eastern region of Donetsk, where Moscow and separatist forces currently control about 60% of the territory.
The EU also expressed its outrage at the alleged sabotage Tuesday of two submarine natural gas pipelines from Russia to Germany and warned of retaliation for any attack on Europe’s energy networks.
Borrell said on Wednesday that “all available information indicates that those leaks are the result of an intentional act,” although the perpetrators have not been identified as of yet.
“Any deliberate 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.
Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said allegations that Russia could be behind the incidents were “predictable and stupid”. He told reporters in a conference call that the damage caused Russia huge economic losses.
The war in Ukraine has sparked an energy conflict between the EU, many of whose members have for years been heavily dependent on Russia’s natural gas supply, and Moscow.
Due to the damage, analysts say it is unlikely that the pipelines will be able to supply gas to Europe this winter.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military and a Washington-based think tank said on Wednesday that Russia is sending troops to the front lines without any training.
Moscow is struggling to hold the line against Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive and has ordered a partial mobilization to replenish its ranks. The effort causes anxietyhowever, in the midst of a reluctant audience.
In a daily briefing, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army 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 arriving in Ukraine to reinforce Russian lines. It offered no evidence to support the claim, although Ukrainian security services released audio of allegedly monitored Russian phone calls about the matter.
The Institute for the Study of War think tank quoted an online video of a man who identified himself as a member of the 1st Tank Regiment, visibly upset, and said he and his colleagues would receive no training before departing for the Russian-occupied territory. . Kherson region of Ukraine.
“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, which inflicted a number of humiliating defeats on Moscow’s forces, is progressing slowly.
It said Russia is currently drafting a stronger defense.
In the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, which is partly occupied by Moscow, five people have been killed and ten others injured by Russian fire 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 Dnipro 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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