Kyiv – On Tuesday, the Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine held the last day of voting in pre-arranged referendums, which are expected to be the basis for their annexation by Moscow.
The ballots are heightening tensions between the Kremlin and the West, with Russia warning it may resort to nuclear weapons to defend its territory.
The official annexation of captured parts of eastern Ukraine, possibly as early as Friday, sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in the seven-month war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that after the elections, “the situation will change radically from a legal point of view, from the point of view of international law, with all the relevant consequences for the protection of these territories and ensuring their security.”
Faced with recent humiliating battlefield setbacks for Kremlin forces in Ukraine and an increasingly cornered counteroffensive by Kiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to up the ante since last week in discussing Moscow’s nuclear option. Regional elections and the call-up of Russian military reservists are another strategy aimed at strengthening Moscow’s open position.
Western allies firmly stand by Ukraine. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was the latest high-ranking foreign official to visit Kyiv on Tuesday, saying Paris was determined to “support Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council under the chairmanship of Putin, spoke about the threat in the strongest terms on Tuesday.
“Let’s imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime, which has committed a large-scale act of aggression that is dangerous for the existence of our state,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. “I believe that NATO in such a case will stay away from direct intervention in the conflict.”
The United States has dismissed the Kremlin’s nuclear talks as a scare tactic.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, responded to Putin’s nuclear threats last week. On Sunday, Sullivan told NBC that Russia would pay a high, albeit uncertain, price if Moscow followed through on threats to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine continues to attract the world’s attention, as it causes widespread shortages and rising prices not only for food, but also for energy, inflation that is hitting the cost of living around the world, and rising global inequality. Talk of nuclear war only deepened the concern.
Misfortunes and misfortunes are often a legacy of Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territories, which are now retaken by Kiev’s troops. Some people have been without gas, electricity, water and internet since March.
The war brought an energy crisis to much of Western Europe, and German officials saw the disruption of Russian supplies as a Kremlin power to pressure Europe over its support for Ukraine.
Germany’s economy ministry said on Tuesday that the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs from Russia to Europe, suffered a drop in pressure just hours after a leak was reported in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea near Denmark. Both pipelines were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the problems were “very disturbing” and would be investigated.
The referendum in the Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, which is expected to result in a predetermined victory for Moscow, is dismissed as a sham by Ukraine and many other countries.
The five-day vote, during which residents are asked whether they want their regions to become part of Russia, was not free or fair. Tens of thousands of residents have already fled the region during the war, and photos shared by those who remain show armed Russian troops going door-to-door to get Ukrainians to vote.
Voting on Tuesday took place at polling stations.
With his back against the wall amid Ukraine’s battlefield successes, Russian media suggest Putin may follow through on last week’s partial mobilization order by declaring martial law and closing the country’s borders to all men of military age.
Drafting into the army in a certain sense affected Putin. This caused a mass exodus of men from the country, ignited protests in many regions across Russia, and occasionally sparked acts of violence. On Monday, an armed man opened fire in the military commissar of one of the Siberian cities and seriously wounded the local chief military commissar. The shooting took place after repeated arson of military offices.
In the latest move to stem the tide of men fleeing Russia to avoid conscription, Russian officials have announced plans to set up a military outpost right on the border with Georgia, one of the main exodus routes.
And in an attempt to assuage public outrage, many Russian officials and lawmakers have acknowledged that mistakes were made during the mobilization — when military commissars recruited random men without military experience who should not have been drafted — and vowed to quickly correct them. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday again condemned the Russian mobilization as nothing more than “an attempt to provide commanders on the ground with a constant flow of cannon fodder.”
Zelensky promised that the Ukrainian military would make efforts to regain “the entire territory of Ukraine” and developed plans to counter the “new types of weapons” used by Russia.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that Putin told the Turkish president last week that Moscow was ready to resume talks with Ukraine but had “new conditions” for a ceasefire.
Although voting continued in Russian-controlled areas, Russian forces continued to strike across Ukraine. At night, Russian missile attacks hit the southern districts of Zaporozhye and Mykolaiv, damaging residential buildings and other facilities, officials said.
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