The preordained outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia’s seven-month war in Ukraine because it is expected to serve as a pretext for Moscow to annex the four areas. That could happen as soon as Friday.
The referendums in the Luhansk and Kherson regions and parts of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia began Sept. 23, often with armed officials going door-to-door collecting votes. The ballots asked residents whether they wanted the areas to be incorporated into Russia.
The vote has been dismissed by the U.S. and its Western allies as a sham.
— Officials say 98,000 Russians enter Kazakhstan after call-up
— Leaks on Russian gas pipelines raise concerns about sabotage
— UN rights team says Ukrainian POWs face systematic mistreatment
— German police raid yacht linked to Russian oligarch
— The latest on the Russia-Ukraine War: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine — The separatist leader of one of the occupied regions of Ukraine that held referendums on joining Russia has announced his intention to go to Moscow “as soon as possible” with a formal plea for annexation.
Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said on social media that he intended to visit the Russian capital to ask President Vladimir Putin to consider folding Ukraine’s Luhansk province into Russia.
Pro-Russia separatists in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk province declared independence from Ukraine more than eight years ago.
Kremlin-orchestrated referendums to make the provinces and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine part of Russia ended Tuesday.
Western officials have described the votes as illegitimate.
KYIV, Ukraine — Top Ukrainian officials say they expect robust sanctions against Moscow in response to Kremlin-orchestrated votes on joining Russia held in four regions of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western countries not to limit themselves to sanctioning Kremlin-backed officials in the occupied territories and called for sweeping measures that will “hit the Russian economy” to prevent the regions’ annexation.
Kuleba said: “The more muted the reaction to the so-called referendums, the greater will be the motivation of the Russian Federation to further escalate and annex territories.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made similar points during a meeting with France’s foreign minister in Kyiv.
“Regarding the pseudo-referendums held by the Russian Federation at gunpoint: the reaction to this should not be just words,” a video showed Zelenskyy saying.
The Ukrainian leader said he expected a strong signal from NATO countries “of what will happen if Russia recognizes these pseudo-referendums.”
Russian authorities have started issuing conscription notices on the Georgian border as men of fighting age continue to flee the Kremlin’s mobilization drive, Russian media reported Tuesday.
According to the state-run news agency TASS, an enlistment task force began handing out notices at the Verkhnii Lars checkpoint, where an estimated 5,500 cars were lining up to cross.
On Monday, Russian security agency FSB, the KGB’s main successor agency, sent an armored vehicle to the Georgian border, supposedly to ensure that reservists do not leave Russia “without completing border-crossing formalities.”
Independent Russian news sources have previously carried unconfirmed claims that draft-age men will be banned from leaving once Kremlin-backed polls on joining Russia have come to a close in four regions in eastern Ukraine.
NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council is meeting to discuss the separation referendums that Moscow-backed authorities held in four occupied regions of Ukraine.
Ukraine requested the Tuesday afternoon meeting and has asked for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be given time to address the council members by video.
Security Council diplomats said the United States and Albania were drafting a resolution which is expected to condemn the votes and say the preordained results will never be recognized.
The resolution is certain to be vetoed by Russia when put to a vote.
The referendums took place in the Russian-controlled Luhansk and Kherson regions of Ukraine and in occupied areas of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. Five days of voting ended Tuesday and ballot counting started.
The balloting was widely viewed as a pretext for announcements that Russia is annexing the territories, just as it annexed Crimea in 2014.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s border agency says it has witnessed a big increase in border crossings from Russia since Russia President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine.
According to data released Tuesday by Frontex, 66,000 Russian citizens entered the 27-nation bloc last week. That represented a 30% increase compared to the preceding week.
Frontex said the majority of the new arrivals hold residence permits or visas to EU countries or Europe’s Schengen travel zone.
The agency said 30.000 Russian citizens arrived in Finland over the last four days.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have closed their borders on Sept. 19 to Russians wishing to travel to the Baltic countries as tourists or for business, sports or cultural purposes, two days before Putin ordered the mobilization.
KYIV, Ukraine — Vote counting has started in the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums that are expected to serve as a pretext for Moscow to annex Russian-held regions of Ukraine.
Moscow-backed officials in four occupied regions in southern and eastern Ukraine said polls closed Tuesday afternoon after five days of voting, and the counting of ballots had started.
The counts are all but guaranteed to show residents overwhelmingly voting in favor of making the the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine part of Russia.
Ukrainian and Western officials said Russian forces went door-to-door telling people to vote and took down the names of those who said they wanted to remain part of Ukraine.
The annexation of the regions could happen as soon as Friday.
TALLINN, Estonia — Officials in Kazakhstan say about 98,000 Russians have entered the country in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine.
Russian men trying to avoid being called into active duty have fled by land and air since President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization.
Kazakhstan and Georgia, both part of the former Soviet Union, appeared to be the most popular destinations for those traveling by car, bicycle or on foot. Individuals with visas for Finland or Norway also have taken land routes out of Russia.
Airline tickets to the limited number of countries still accepting flights from Russia sold out quickly despite steep prices.
In announcing the number of Russians crossing Kazakhstan’s border, Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov said authorities would not send those who are avoiding the call-up back home unless they were on an international wanted list for criminal charges.
STOCKHOLM — The Swedish national seismic network says it detected two explosions close to unusual leaks on two Russian natural gas pipelines running under Baltic Sea to to Germany.
The network said Tuesday that it registered one blast early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm and a slightly larger one later that night northeast of the island.
It says the latter explosion was equivalent to a magnitude-2.3 earthquake.
Leaders of Poland and Denmark and experts have raised concerns that the leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline were sabotage.
GENEVA — U.N. human rights investigators say Ukrainian prisoners of war appear to be facing “systematic” mistreatment — including torture — both when they are captured and when they are transferred into areas controlled by Russian forces or Russia itself.
A monitoring mission set up by the U.N. human rights office says Russia must address such mistreatment that amounts to a grave violation of international law.
The findings emerged as the mission issued its first comprehensive look at rights violations and abuses committed by both sides of the war between Feb. 1 and July 31 — covering the first months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The mission, which tracks the situation daily, has been monitoring rights in Ukraine ever since a conflict involving Russian-backed insurgents began in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
KYIV, Ukraine — The foreign ministers of France and Ukraine have slammed Russia’s “mock referendums” in the occupied territories and Moscow’s escalating threats of a nuclear war.
Catherine Colonna of France and Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine spoke at a joint news conference in Kyiv.
Russia and its “unnecessary, illegal, unjust war, threatens the very foundations of the rules-based international order,” Colonna said.
Kuleba said the votes showed “Russia doesn’t want any peace talks.”
KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol says just about 20% of the city’s estimated remaining 100,000 residents have cast ballots in a Kremlin-orchestrated local referendum on becoming part of Russia.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko fled Mariupol after Russian forces seized the city following a months-long siege. He said Tuesday said many people in the Sea of Azov port city that became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance were forced to vote.
“A man toting an assault rifle comes to your home and asks you to vote, so what can people do?” Boychenko said. “Can it be a democratic instrument?”
Mariupol had a prewar population of 541,000. The city is part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, one of four regions of Ukraine where Moscow-installed authorities held separation referendums to show residents want to be part of Russia.
Boychenko said Russian authorities banned entry and exit from the city. His remarks couldn’t be independently confirmed.
Facebook says it has identified and stopped a sprawling network of fake accounts that spread Russian propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine throughout Western Europe.
Facebook parent company Meta says the network created more than 60 websites that mimicked legitimate news organizations but parroted Russian talking points about Ukraine.
More than 1,600 fake Facebook accounts were used to spread the propaganda to audiences in Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Ukraine. Meta says it was the largest and most complex network linked to Russia that the California-based company has identified since the Ukraine invasion began.
The Russian Embassy in Washington hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
BERLIN — The influx of Ukrainian refugees to Germany has pushed the country’s population to a new all-time high of more than 84 million, the German Federal Statistical Office said Tuesday.
By the end of June, the country’s population increased by 843,000 people, or 1%, compared to the end of 2021.
In comparison, the population grew by 82,000 people, or 0.1%, in the entire year of 2021.
Around 750,000 Ukrainian refugees came to Germany seeking safety from the Russian invasion in the first half of 2022.
Most of them were female, the statistical office reported, saying that by the end of June 501,000 more Ukrainian women and girls were living in Germany than at the end of 2021, while the number of Ukrainian men and boys increased by 248,000.
WARSAW, Poland — Officials say a series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany could be the result of sabotage.
The incidents overshadowed the inauguration on Tuesday of a long-awaited pipeline that will bring Norwegian gas to Poland.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says she “cannot rule out” sabotage after three leaks were detected on Nord Stream 1 and 2.
The pipelines aren’t bringing gas to Europe amid an energy standoff over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, gas still fills the lines.
No official presented evidence of what caused the problems. But in central Europe, where distrust of Russia runs high, there were fears Moscow sabotaged its own infrastructure to signal all pipelines are vulnerable to attack.
KYIV, Ukraine — Analysts say two natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany are unlikely to be able to carry any gas to Europe this winter even if there was the political will to bring them online.
A series of unusual leaks have been discovered on Nord Stream 1 and 2, which run from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Eurasia Group analysts Henning Gloystein and Jason Bush, wrote Tuesday: “Depending on the scale of the damage, the leaks could even mean a permanent closure of both lines.”
They noted that undersea pipelines are designed in a way that they are not accidentally damaged, and that leaks are rare.
“Leaks of this size are a severe safety and environmental hazard, especially should Russia not stop pumping gas into the system,” the analysts said.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s presidential office says at least 11 civilians have been killed and 18 others wounded by the latest Russian shelling.
A strike on the town of Pervomaiskyi, in the northeastern Kharkiv region, killed eight people, including a 15-year-old boy, Ukrainian officials said.
Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Synyehubov said in televised comments that “the senseless shelling looks like an attempt to scare civilians.”
In the eastern Donetsk region, the Russian barrage focused on the cities of Kramatorsk, Sloviansk and Toretsk, killing three and injuring 13 in 24 hours.
The region is one of four where Moscow-installed authorities are conducting referendums on making the areas part of Russia.
BEIJING – China says the U.N. Security Council should help mediate the end of the war in Ukraine.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin says the country is willing to work with the rest of the international community to deescalate the fighting.
Wang said: “China has always stood on the side of peace and has been committed to promoting peace talks.”
China has tacitly supported Russia’s claim that it was provoked into the conflict by the U.S. and NATO but has not recognized Russia’s territorial claims in Ukraine.
Wang said: “We believe that the Security Council, as the core of the international security mechanism, should make full use of its mediation roles entrusted by the U.N. Charter, follow the correct direction of ending war and promoting peace.
MOSCOW – A top Russian security official has issued the sternest warning yet that Moscow has the right to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine if under threat, saying that the West won’t dare intervene.
Dmitry Medvedev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday said that “if a threat to Russia raises above a certain limit of danger, we will have to respond without asking anyone’s consent and holding long consultations.”
“And it’s certainly not a bluff,” he said.
Medvedev is one of Putin’s closest associates and is widely seen as expressing the Russian president’s views. His comments on Tuesday marked the bluntest official warning yet that Moscow is pondering the use of nuclear weapons to halt Ukraine’s push to reclaim Russia-held regions.
Kyiv and its Western allies have dismissed the Kremlin’s nuclear talk as scare tactics.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Authorities are trying to determine the cause of mysterious leaks and pressure drops affecting gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The problems affecting the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines came as a new pipeline meant to wean Poland and Europe off of Russian gas was to be inaugurated on Tuesday.
Neither Nord Stream 1 nor 2 was being actively used to bring gas from Russia due an energy standoff between Russia and Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However both were filled with natural gas from Russia.
Officials said the leaks did not pose any threat to energy supplies given that Russian is not supplying gas through them, and experts said the environmental impact would be limited.
KYIV, Ukraine — A planned speech later this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin may see him declare four occupied territories of Ukraine parts of Russia, the British military said Tuesday.
In a daily intelligence briefing, the British Defense Ministry said Putin will address both houses of the Russian parliament on Friday and could declare the annexation of the regions. An internationally criticized vote is underway in the regions and ends Tuesday.
“Russia’s leaders almost certainly hope that any accession announcement will be seen as a vindication of the ‘special military operation’ and will consolidate patriotic support for the conflict,” the British said.
“This aspiration will likely be undermined by the increasing domestic awareness of Russia’s recent battlefield (setbacks) and significant unease about the partial mobilization announced last week.”
KYIV, Ukraine — The final day of voting began Tuesday in Russia-held regions of Ukraine. The vote is expected to serve as a pretext for their annexation by Moscow but is rejected as sham by Kyiv and its Western allies.
Security was tight in at least one of the areas where the voting took place: The Ukrainian military’s general staff said that travel in the occupied southern Kherson region “is completely closed for entry and exit.” It did not elaborate.
The Ukrainian military also claimed to have struck seven Ural trucks of the Russian forces in Kherson over the last day.
Tuesday marks the final day in the five days of voting. Authorities in the Russian-occupied areas had said they will open polling stations Tuesday after previously going door to door in some areas, trailed by rifle-carrying troops.