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Kyiv slams staged votes as ‘propaganda show’, vows to punish Russian occupiers

Ukraine’s government on Wednesday denounced the Russian-organized referendums in four partially occupied regions as “a propaganda show”, vowing to hunt down and punish the organizers, while the European Commission proposed a series of new sanctions to impose its own punishment to the Kremlin and its proxies.

Moscow, however, proclaimed the staged votes a major success and a basis for annexation, which Russian officials said would advance within days, even as thousands of Russians continued to flee their country to avoid mobilization. “partial” military of President Vladimir Putin.

“The sham referendums held in Russian-occupied territories are an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a conference. a press conference in Brussels. “Putin’s mobilization and threat to use nuclear weapons are further steps on the road to escalation.”

“We do not accept the sham referendum and any form of annexation in Ukraine,” von der Leyen added. “And we are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation.”

The sanctions package proposed by the commission – its eighth since Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24 – includes provisions to adopt a cap on Russian oil prices, as agreed this month by the countries of the Group of Seven, as well as new sanctions for those who helped organize the staged votes. The new package, however, still needs to be approved by all 27 EU countries, including Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban signaled resistance on Monday, saying the sanctions were “having the opposite effect”.

In Washington, the Pentagon announced $1.1 billion in additional long-term military assistance to Ukraine, including 18 additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS launchers. Long-range precision systems gave Ukrainian forces the ability to strike beyond Russian lines, helping to turn the tide of the war. But US defense officials have said delivering the weapons will take a few years, an acknowledgment that the conflict is likely to drag on indefinitely.

Officials in Kyiv reiterated that neither Russian-orchestrated referendums nor annexations would change Ukraine’s military goal, which is to reclaim all occupied lands, including Crimea, which Russia illegally invaded and annexed. in 2014.

“The Russian Federation has organized a propaganda broadcast,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Forcing residents of these territories to fill out papers with the barrel of a gun is another Russian crime during its aggression against Ukraine.”

Referendums Held Yield Expected Result as Russia Prepares Annexations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to ‘defend’ the citizens of the four regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – where the Kremlin and its proxies say residents voted in favor of joining Russia with absurd markups, in some cases over 90 percent.

On Wednesday, the two leaders of the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, visited Moscow and called on Putin to formally absorb their regions into Russia.

Such a step would require Putin’s approval and, technically, a vote in the Russian parliament, although the end result is not in doubt.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, announced he had called a special session for Monday, signaling that formal ratification of annexation could take place within days.

Russian state media reported that Putin is set to deliver a State of the Union address on Friday, during which he could declare Russia’s annexation of all four regions – although Moscow does not fully control any of them. them, neither militarily nor politically. Putin could also call for a drastic escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Although the Kremlin has yet to confirm when or if Putin might make a public appearance, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday saying that steps would soon be taken to meet the “aspirations” of residents of occupied Ukrainian regions. “to be together”. with Russia.

But Russia’s attempts to redraw its national borders have not improved its military position, nor masked its recent losses. Ukrainian forces have capitalized on their successful counter-offensive in the northeast and are making further advances, including northwest of Lyman in the Donetsk region, which has been the center of intense fighting.

The Russian Defense Ministry, in its daily war briefing, claimed a Ukrainian attack had been repelled, but pro-Russian military bloggers took a more pessimistic view.

“The situation on this front is becoming more tense every day,” said war correspondent Semyon Pegov, whose WarGonzo Telegram channel has more than a million subscribers.

Pegov added that Ukrainian artillery fire was disrupting the Russian forces’ last logistical supply route to Lyman and that Ukrainian reconnaissance and sabotage groups had been spotted a few miles from the town.

If Ukraine captures Lyman, Russian units risk being surrounded, which could be another blow to Putin’s flagging campaign.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, is quick to present its “special military operation” as a success to a Russian public very shaken by Putin’s declaration last week of a “partial” mobilization intended to call on hundreds of thousands of reservists as reinforcements.

Thousands of men, as well as some women working in the health sector, were called up, and Russian media reported numerous reports of men in their 50s and 60s receiving military summonses, as well as of men of combat age who are unfit for service. due to health issues or who should otherwise be legally exempt.

Russian men fleeing mobilization and leaving everything behind

The chaotic mobilization has led to a remarkable exodus – more than 200,000 people, many of them young men, have fled the country since the appeal was announced, according to Russia’s neighbours.

With entry to Europe severely restricted, caravans of vehicles and people lined up at the borders of Georgia and Kazakhstan, which became the two main transit hubs. Russians said they spent days trying to reach border checkpoints, in some cases running out of gas, food and water. Those crossing into neighboring countries often have nowhere to stay and no way to get around, as border communities struggle to cope with the rush of arrivals.

“It’s just hell out there,” said Yana, a 28-year-old Moscow woman who cycled through Georgia on Tuesday night with her boyfriend. They had waited three days near the Verkhny Lars checkpoint. Yana spoke to The Washington Post on the condition that she be identified only by her first name, for fear of reprisal.

European leaders blame Russian ‘sabotage’ after Nord Stream explosions

With few to no seats available on commercial flights departing from Russia in the coming days, the US Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday repeated a warning that all US citizens should leave the country.

“U.S. citizens should not travel to Russia and those residing in or traveling to Russia should leave Russia immediately as long as commercial travel options remain limited,” the embassy said in a statement Tuesday. “The U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may suddenly become even more limited.”

Bulgarian and Polish governments have issued similar warnings, urging their citizens to leave Russia.

The US Embassy also reminded citizens with dual US-Russian citizenship that they could be drafted. “Russia may refuse to recognize dual nationals as U.S. citizens, deny them access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service,” the embassy said.

Beatriz Rios in Brussels and Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on September 21, describing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to ” divide and destroy Russia”. .” Follow our live updates here.

The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat into the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Organized referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place September 23-27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another organized referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson from Friday.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war. Here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can help support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

Read our full coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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