UKRAINE. Zaporizhzhia: Russia was all set to annex a major chunk of Ukraine within days, releasing what it called vote tallies showing overwhelming support in four provinces to join it, after what Ukraine and the West denounced as illegal sham referendums held at gunpoint.
On Moscow’s famous Red Square, a stage with giant video screens has been set up, with huge billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson — Russia!”
The head of the upper house of the Russian parliament said that the government would consider the incorporation of the four partially-occupied provinces into the main country on October 4, three days before President Vladimir Putin’s birthday, to mark his victory over the Ukrainian people.
The Russian-installed administrations of the four provinces have formally asked Putin to incorporate them into Russia, which Russian officials have suggested is a formality.
“This should happen within a week,” Rodion Miroshnik, the Russia-installed ambassador to Moscow of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, told the RIA state news agency.
“The main thing has already happened: the referendum has taken place. Therefore, let’s say: The locomotive has already started and it’s unlikely to be stopped.”
To annex the territories, which represent roughly 15% of Ukraine, some sort of treaty will need to be struck and ratified by the Russian parliament, which is controlled by Putin’s aides.
The areas will then be legally a part of Russia, and its nuclear arsenal will cover those areas as well.
Putin has also threatened that he could go to intense lengths to annex Ukraine and protect Russian territory, even if it means deploying his nuclear resources to guarantee leadership.
Forced to vote
Meanwhile, many Ukrainian migrants who fled their hometowns to escape the war in recent days have confirmed that people back home have been forced to vote in the street by roving officials at gunpoint.
Footage filmed during the exercise showed Russian-installed officials taking ballot boxes from house to house with armed men in tow.
Despite local reports of only a few people casting their votes while the rest were coerced into voting through physical threats, Russia says voting was voluntary, adhered to international law, and that voter turnout was high.
The referendums and notion of annexations have been rejected globally, as has Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sought to rally international support from foreign leaders on the world stage, including those of Britain, Canada, Germany, and Turkey.
“Thank you all for your clear and unequivocal support. Thank you all for understanding our position,” Zelensky said in a late-night video address.
The United States has unveiled a $1.1 billion weapons package for Ukraine that includes 18 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, accompanying munitions, various types of counter-drone systems, and radar systems. The announcement brings U.S. security aid to $16.2 billion.
The U.S. also said that it would impose fresh new sanctions on Russia for the “sham” referendums, followed by the EU, who also proposed more sanctions, but the bloc’s 27 member countries will need to convene and settle their individual differences before the decision can be finally implemented.
Over the past 24 hours, Russia has launched three missiles and eight air strikes, and executed more than 82 attacks from rocket salvo systems on military and civilian sites, Ukraine’s military said early on Thursday.
Ukraine’s air force carried out 16 strikes on Wednesday, damaging or destroying a number of Russian positions, while ground forces destroyed two command posts, it said.
Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said three people were killed in the Russian shelling of Dnipro, the region’s capital, including a 12-year-old girl, and more than 60 buildings were damaged.
“The rescuers carried her out of the damaged house where she was just sleeping when a Russian missile hit,” he said on his Telegram channel.