Kremlin-backed officials in Ukraine appealed to President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, Sep. 28, to annex the regions under their control, after the territories held votes denounced by Kyiv and the West as a “sham”.
Ukraine called on the EU to hit Russia with more sanctions and NATO to send more weapons to the frontline after the Kremlin-installed officials rolled out the alleged results late Tuesday.
The appeal came despite repeated warnings from Moscow that it could use its nuclear arsenal to defend the territories from a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has wrested back swathes of territory this month already.
“Ukraine cannot and will not tolerate any attempts by Russia to seize any part of our land,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
The United States announced a new package of weapons and supplies Wednesday worth $1.1 billion, including precision rocket systems, ammunition, armoured vehicles and radars.
The European Commission proposed fresh sanctions targeting Russian exports worth seven billion euros, an oil price cap, an expanded travel blacklist and asset freezes.
The EU slammed the “illegal” vote and said the results were “falsified”, while the White House and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said they would “never” recognise them.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau vowed to disregard the votes and offer Kyiv further support.
Luhansk was the first Russian-controlled region of Ukraine to appeal to Putin to intervene, with the recently captured southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson following shortly after.
“Our residents made a historic choice and have decided to become part of the multinational population of the Russian Federation,” the Kremlin-installed leader in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, said in a statement published on social media.
The Russian foreign ministry in a statement on Wednesday said the regions made a “conscious and free choice” in favour of annexation.
Only Donetsk — which along with Lugansk makes up the industrial Donbas region partially controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014 — had yet to formally ask Putin for annexation.
The appeal to Putin represents a turning point in the seven-month invasion as Russian officials in Moscow suggest they could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and Putin calls up thousands of reservists to cement the Kremlin’s authority in the territories.
– ‘What have we ended up with?’ –
The four territories — Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south; Donetsk and Lugansk in the east — create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Together, all five make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, whose forces in recent weeks have been clawing back ground.
Despite those gains — particularly in the northeast — Russian forces have battered the second-largest city of Kharkiv and overnight a salvo of missiles hit a railway yard, knocking out power to more than 18,000 households.
Iryna Mayor, 51, a machine operator in the rail wagon workshop, paused from shifting rubble and laying damp and torn record books out to dry, to angrily mock the invasion.
“We’re Russian-speaking people, and what have we ended up with? Have we got peace, brotherhood? No, you can see what we got,” she declared, pointing at the twisted debris surrounding the missile craters.
Lawmakers are expected to vote hastily to annex the territories now that the results have been announced, and Russian news agencies have said Putin could sign legislation formalising the land grab this week.
– ‘I’m in shock’ –
Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine coincided with his decision to call up hundreds of thousands of reservists to back up Russia’s struggling forces in eastern Ukraine.
The move has sparked panic, protests and an exodus among military-aged Russian men for neighbouring countries such as Georgia and Kazakhstan.
Moscow announced Wednesday it would no longer issue passports to Russian men called up to serve and a region bordering Russia closed to passenger cars, with both moves fuelling fears the borders could close entirely.
The same day, a Russian court remanded three young poets into custody for two months after they took part in an event against the mobilisation, the OVD-Info human rights NGO said.
At a military recruitment office in Saint Petersburg there was confusion and resignation, as draftees and their families bid each other goodbye.
Nikita, a 25-year-old reservist, had tears in his eyes as he held hands with his 22-year-old fiancee as he said goodbye.
“If you have to go, you have to,” he said.
“I don’t know what to say. I am in shock,” Alina said, her gaze locked on Nikita.
Along the frontline of Ukraine, six people were injured in the Kharkiv region by Russian strikes, officials in Kyiv said, while five civilians were killed and 10 more wounded by Moscow’s forces.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter