In the referendums in four Ukrainian provinces occupied by Russia, conducted under the electoral supervision of Russia and often with armed Russian officials going door-to-door collecting votes, the winner Tuesday was — unsurprisingly — Russia.
Moscow said the residents of those four regions in Ukraine’s east and south voted overwhelmingly to join Russia in an election decried as a sham by the U.S. and its Western allies. The only upset was the Kherson vote coming in at only 87% in favor, compared to 99% in Donetsk, 98% in Luhansk and 93% in Zaporizhzhia.
The seemingly preordained outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia’s seven-month war, with the Kremlin threatening to throw more troops into the battle. Moscow has also continued issuing vague warnings about its willingness to use nuclear weapons, this time suggesting they could be used to defend the new territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely announce to parliament the addition of the new terrain Friday in an attempt to bolster public support for the war, the British Defense Ministry said. Valentina Matviyenko, who chairs the body’s upper house, said lawmakers could consider annexation legislation Oct. 4.
Once the quick process is complete, “the situation will radically change from the legal viewpoint, from the point of view of international law, with all the corresponding consequences for protection of those areas and ensuring their security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council that “any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that consider the inviolability of border to be vital for themselves.” He appeared to rule out future negotiations by adding: “There is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia.”
►The Pentagon said Tuesday it will deliver the first two advanced NASAMS anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine in the next two months, along with six more within the next two years. Kyiv has pressed for those weapons since earlier this year.
►More than 60 police officers raided a luxury yacht in northern Germany linked to Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. Prosecutors said they are investigating possible breaches of sanctions and money-laundering rules.
►Japan protested to Russia on Tuesday over the detention of a Japanese consulate official on espionage allegations. Japan denied those allegations and accused Russian authorities of abusive interrogation. The official was detained Thursday and interrogated with his eyes covered, his hands and head pressed and immobilized, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.
►A mission of French specialists has arrived in Ukraine to help document Russian war crimes near Izium.
Explosions, gas leaks on pipelines under Baltic Sea raise specter of sabotage
The discovery of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany has led some European leaders and experts to suggest sabotage could be a possible cause amid an energy standoff with Russia due to the war in Ukraine.
The leaks were detected after three large underwater explosions registered Monday at seismic stations in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Tuesday her government considers the leaks to be the result of “deliberate actions,” adding that the perpetrator is not known.
The first explosion was recorded early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm, said Bjorn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network. A second, stronger blast northeast of the island that night was equivalent to a magnitude-2.3 earthquake. “There’s no doubt, this is not an earthquake,” Lund said.
The pipelines have been inactive but still contained gas — most of it methane — which bubbled up to the surface of the sea, as shown on images released by the Danish military.
Asked if the leaks may have been caused by sabotage, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “no version could be excluded.”
Nearly 100,000 Russians escape to Kazakhstan
Nearly 100,000 Russians have fled to neighboring Kazakhstan since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization of 300,000 civilians last week as men of fighting age try to avoid being sent to the war in Ukraine.
Kazakhstan Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov said the approximately 98,000 Russians who have arrived in the past week will not be sent back home unless they’re on a list of fugitives wanted for criminal charges.
“We must take care of them and ensure their safety,” Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said. “It is a political and a humanitarian issue.”
Kazakhstan, which has a large northern border abutting Russia, and fellow former Soviet republic Georgia seem to be the two most popular destinations for those crossing by car, bicycle or on foot from Russia. The total fleeing from Russia to those two countries and Finland is estimated at more than 194,000 in less than a week.
Some European countries have closed their doors to Russians seeking asylum to escape conscription; others have expressed a willingness to take them in.
Russian Orthodox leader: Death in war ‘washes away all sins’
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, told his followers that dying while carrying out military duty “washes away all sins.” Kirill preached support for mobilization in Russia, saying it will help “reconcile” Ukraine and Russia. Kirill is a Putin supporter who has stood behind the war.
In May, Pope Francis urged Kirill not to justify the invasion. “The patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy,” Francis said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Russia says it won annexation vote US calls a sham