Kyiv, Ukraine — The last day of voting was on Tuesday in Ukrainian regions controlled by Russia in predetermined referendums which should serve as a pretext for their annexation by Moscow.
The polls increase tension between the Kremlin and the West, with Russia warning it could use nuclear weapons to defend its own territory.
The formal annexation of captured chunks 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 polls “the situation will change radically from the legal point of view, from the point of view of international law, with all the corresponding consequences for the protection of these areas and the guarantee of their security”.
Faced with recent humiliating battlefield setbacks for Kremlin forces in Ukraine, and increasingly cornered by the Kyiv counteroffensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin has since last week attempted to up the ante by speaking of Moscow’s nuclear option. Regional polls and the call-up of Russian military reserves are other strategies to shore up Moscow’s exposed position.
Western allies remain firm with 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, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity”.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, spelled out the threat in the most blunt terms yet 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, dangerous for the very existence of our state,” Medvedev wrote on his channel. messaging app. “I believe that NATO will avoid directly interfering in the conflict in this case.”
The United States has called the Kremlin’s nuclear talks a scare tactic.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, reacted to Putin’s nuclear threats last week. Sullivan told NBC on Sunday that Russia would pay a high, albeit unspecified, price if Moscow followed through on its threats to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine still commands the world’s attention as it causes widespread shortages and rising prices not only of food but also of energy, inflation that hits the cost of living everywhere and growing global inequality . Talk of nuclear war only added to the concern.
Misery and hardship are often the legacy of Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian areas now taken over by Kyiv forces. Some people have had no gas, electricity, running water or internet since March.
The war has caused an energy shortage in much of Western Europe, with German officials seeing the disruption of Russian supplies as a Kremlin power play to pressure Europe over its support for the Ukraine.
Germany’s economy ministry said on Tuesday that the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe had reported a drop in pressure, just hours after a leak was reported in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. in the Baltic Sea off Denmark. Both pipelines were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the issues were “very alarming” and would be investigated.
The referendum in Ukrainian regions controlled by Russia, the result of which should be a predetermined victory for Moscow, is dismissed as a sham by Ukraine and many other countries.
The five-day vote, in which residents are asked if they want their regions to become part of Russia, was anything but free or fair. Tens of thousands of residents had already fled the areas amid the war, and footage shared by those who remained showed armed Russian troops going door to door to pressure Ukrainians to vote.
Tuesday’s ballot took place at polling stations.
With his back to the wall amid Ukrainian successes on the battlefield, Russian media are speculating that 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 fighting age.
The call has in some ways backfired on Putin. It sparked a mass exodus of men from the country, fueling protests in many parts of Russia and sparking occasional acts of violence. On Monday, a gunman opened fire at an enlistment office in a Siberian town and seriously injured the local military recruiting chief. The shooting came after scattered arson attacks on recruiting offices.
In the latest move to stem the tide of men fleeing Russia to avoid mobilization, Russian officials have announced their intention to set up a military recruiting office just on the border with Georgia, one of the main routes to the ‘Exodus.
And trying to quell public outrage, many Russian officials and lawmakers have acknowledged that mistakes were made during mobilization – when military conscription offices rounded up random people with no military experience who weren’t supposed to be called – and promised to correct them quickly. .
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again decried the Russian mobilization as nothing more than “an attempt to provide commanders in the field with a steady stream of cannon fodder.”
Zelenskyy promised that the Ukrainian army would redouble its efforts to recapture “all Ukrainian territory” and drew up plans to counter “new types of weapons” used by Russia.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday that Putin had told Turkey’s president last week that Moscow was ready to resume negotiations with Ukraine but had “new conditions” for a ceasefire.
Even as voting continued in Russian-controlled areas, Russian forces continued their strikes across Ukraine. Overnight, Russian missile attacks targeted the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv, damaging residential buildings and other sites, officials said.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine