Moscow, however, heralded the staged votes as a major success and a basis for annexation, which Russian officials said would move forward within days, even as thousands of Russians continued to flee the country to avoid conscription as part of of President Vladimir Putin’s partial army. mobilization.
“The fake referendums organized in the territories Russia occupied are an illegal attempt to seize land and change international borders by force,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference in Brussels. “Putin’s mobilization and threat to use nuclear weapons are further steps on the path of escalation.”
“We do not accept the fake referendum and any kind of annexation in Ukraine,” added von der Leyen, “and we are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this new escalation.”
The Commission’s proposed sanctions package, the eighth since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, includes provisions to adopt a cap on Russian oil prices as agreed by the Group of Seven nations earlier this month. this month, as well as new sanctions on people who helped organize the staged vote. However, the new package still needs to be agreed by all 27 EU countries, including Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday signaled resistance and said sanctions had “failed”.
In Kyiv, officials reiterated that neither Russian-orchestrated referendums nor annexation procedures would change Ukraine’s military objective, which is to recapture all occupied lands, including Crimea, which Russia illegally invaded and annexed in 2014.
“The Russian Federation organized a propaganda show,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Forcing people in these territories to fill out some documents at gunpoint is another Russian crime in the course of its aggression against Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to “defend” the citizens of the four regions (Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia) where the Kremlin and its proxies say residents voted to join Russia by absurd margins. , in some cases, more. of 90 percent.
On Wednesday, the two leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, traveled to Moscow and appealed to Putin to officially absorb their areas into Russia.
Such a step would require Putin’s approval and, technically, a vote by the Russian parliament, though the ultimate outcome is not in doubt.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, announced that he had called an extraordinary session on Monday, signaling that formal ratification of the annexation could happen within days.
Russian men fleeing the mobilization and leaving everything behind.
Russian state media reported that Putin is expected to deliver a state of the union address on Friday, during which he could declare the annexation of the four regions by Russia, although Moscow does not fully control any of them, neither military nor politically. Putin could also simultaneously call for a drastic escalation of the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has yet to confirm when, or if, Putin might make a public appearance. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying measures would soon be taken to meet the “aspirations” of residents of the occupied Ukrainian regions “to stand alongside Russia.”
Ukrainian forces, building on their recent successful counter-offensive in northeastern Ukraine, have been making further advances, including north-west of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region, which has been at the center of heavy fighting in recent days.
The Russian Defense Ministry, in its daily report on the war, claimed that a Ukrainian attack had been repelled, but pro-Russian military bloggers said the situation in the area was “tense”.
“The situation on this front is getting more tense every day,” said war correspondent Semyon Pegov, whose WarGonzo Telegram channel has more than a million followers.
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 within a few miles of the town.
Organized referendums yield expected result while Russia prepares annexations
If Ukraine captures Lyman, Russian units risk being encircled, in what could be another blow to Putin’s rout campaign.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is scrambling to present its “special military operation” as a success to a Russian public that has become unsettled by Putin’s declaration last week of a “partial” mobilization aimed at calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists as reinforcements.
Thousands of men and some women working in health care have been called up, while a comparable flow of people continues to flee the country to avoid conscription.
Russian men fleeing the mobilization and leaving everything behind.
There have been widespread reports in the Russian media of men in their 50s and 60s receiving military citations, along with men of fighting age who are unfit for duty due to health problems or who should be legally exempt.
With entry into Europe severely limited, caravans of vehicles and people have been lining the borders of Georgia and Kazakhstan, which have become two major transit hubs. Russians have reported spending days trying to reach border checkpoints, in some cases running out of gas, food and water in the process. Those who cross into neighboring countries face a lack of accommodation or transportation in border towns that are now teeming with new Russian immigrants.
“It’s hell there,” said Yana, a 28-year-old woman from Moscow who cycled across into Georgia on Tuesday night with her boyfriend, also 28. They had waited for three days near the Verkhniy Lars checkpoint. . The couple spoke to The Washington Post and asked to be identified only by Yana’s first name for fear of retaliation.
European leaders blame Russian ‘sabotage’ after Nord Stream explosions
With few to no seats available on commercial flights from Russia in the coming days, the US Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday repeated an earlier warning that all US citizens must leave the country immediately.
“US citizens should not travel to Russia and those residing or traveling in Russia should depart Russia immediately while limited business travel options remain,” the embassy said in a statement. “The US Embassy is severely limited in its ability to assist US citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may suddenly become even more limited.”
The governments of Bulgaria and Poland have issued similar warnings, urging their citizens to leave Russia.
The US Embassy also issued a reminder to dual US and Russian citizens that they could be recruited. “Russia can refuse to recognize the US citizenship of dual nationals, deny them access to US consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and recruit dual nationals for military service,” the embassy said.
In Washington, the Biden administration was reportedly working to agree on a new package of nearly $12 billion in additional military and financial aid for Ukraine.
The United States also said Tuesday night that it introduced a resolution at the UN Security Council asking its members to condemn the organized referendums and call on Russia to withdraw its troops.
Beatriz Ríos in Brussels 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 a September 21 address to the nation, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against the West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide Russia”. and destroy Russia. .” Follow our live updates here.
The fight: A successful Ukrainian counter-offensive forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the war’s first days and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Annexation referendums: Organized referendums, which would be illegal under international law, will take place from September 23-27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. The Moscow-appointed administration will hold another organized referendum in Kherson starting Friday.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war; here we present some of his most impressive works.
How can you help: Here are ways Americans can help support the Ukrainian people, as well as what people around the world have been donating.
Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive videos.
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