© Reuters. Ukrainian servicemen climb atop an armored fighting vehicle, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine September 24, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak
(Reuters) – Shelling hit southern Ukraine on Saturday evening as Russia sought to defend its seven-month war even as it prepared to escalate the conflict with the expected annexation of parts of Ukraine. east and south which his forces have captured.
Ukraine and Western countries claim that the referendums on joining Russia in the territories captured by Russia are a sham designed to justify their annexation and the intensification of hostilities with newly recruited troops after the recent losses on the battlefield.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the United Nations General Assembly and media around the world on Saturday, opposing Russia’s assault on its neighbor, limited to the United States and to the countries under its control.
Nearly three-quarters of the countries in the assembly voted to reprimand Russia and demand that it withdraw its troops soon after the February 24 invasion that Russia calls a special military operation.
Russia’s military campaign has killed tens of thousands, left some Ukrainian cities fallow and sparked Russia’s biggest confrontation with the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Ukraine and Russia shared responsibility for missile strikes and bombardments in various parts of the south and east.
Ukraine’s military said Sunday morning that Russian forces had launched dozens of missile attacks and airstrikes on military and civilian targets, including 35 “settlements”, in the past 24 hours.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Its state news agency RIA, citing unidentified sources, said earlier that Ukrainian forces shelled a granary and fertilizer warehouses.
Reuters was unable to verify either party’s claims.
Votes on joining Russia were hastily organized after Ukraine recaptured large swaths of the northeast in a counteroffensive this month.
Ukrainian officials said people were banned from leaving certain occupied areas until the end of the four-day vote, armed groups entered homes and employees were threatened with dismissal if they did not participate.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the votes would be “unequivocally condemned” by the world, along with the mobilization Russia began this week, including in Crimea and other Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Russia maintains that the referendums offer the inhabitants of these regions the opportunity to express their point of view.
Lavrov, at a press conference after his speech to the New York assembly, said the areas where votes are underway would be under Moscow’s “full protection” if annexed by Russia.
When asked if Russia would have any reason to use nuclear weapons to defend annexed regions of Ukraine, Lavrov said that Russian territory, including territory “still enshrined” in the Russian constitution at the he future, “is under the full protection of the State”.
“All laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply throughout its territory,” he said, also referring specifically to Russian doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons.
The Group of Seven industrialized economies said they would not recognize the results of the votes.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia’s statements about the possible use of nuclear weapons were “absolutely unacceptable” and that Kyiv would not back down.
“We call on all nuclear powers to speak out now and make it clear to Russia that such rhetoric endangers the world and will not be tolerated,” Kuleba said.
Ukraine has called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the referendums, accusing Russia of violating the UN Charter by trying to change Ukraine’s borders, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said. Foreign Affairs Oleg Nikolenko on Twitter (NYSE:).
Putin on Wednesday ordered the first mobilization since World War II, sending Russian men rapidly towards the borders, with an increase in traffic at the borders with Finland and Georgia and an increase in the price of plane tickets from Moscow.
More than 2,000 people were arrested across Russia for protesting the plan, including 798 people detained in 33 cities on Saturday, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
Frustration even spilled over to pro-Kremlin media, with an editor at the public news channel RT complaining that issues such as sending appeal documents to the wrong men were “infuriating people”.
When asked on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving the country, Lavrov stressed the right to freedom of movement.