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Russia prepares to annex occupied Ukraine despite outcry – The Denver Post

By JON GAMBRELL and ADAM SCHRECK

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia was set to officially annex parts of Ukraine on Wednesday after claiming that voters in areas under military control overwhelmingly approved of living under Moscow rule.

Armed troops went door to door collecting ballots for five days of voting in Kremlin-organized referendums that asked whether the occupied areas should be part of Russia. Western observers called the votes a land grab by Russian leaders increasingly cornered following a string of embarrassing military casualties in Ukraine.

Administrations installed by Moscow in the four southern and eastern regions of Ukraine claimed on Tuesday evening that their residents had voted to join Russia in so-called referendums.

“Forcing residents of these territories to fill out papers with the barrel of a gun is another Russian crime during its aggression against Ukraine,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry blasted the ballots as “a propaganda show” and “void and worthless”.

Pro-Russian officials from Ukraine’s Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions acted quickly on Wednesday, saying they would ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to incorporate the provinces into Russia. It was not immediately clear how the administrative process would unfold.

Western countries, however, dismissed the polls as a meaningless pretext staged by Moscow in an attempt to legitimize its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Tuesday night that Washington would propose a UN Security Council resolution to condemn Russia’s “fictitious” vote.

The resolution would also urge member states not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and demand that Russia withdraw its troops from its neighbour, she tweeted.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also weighed in on the ballots, calling them “illegal” on Wednesday and describing the results as “tampered with”.

“This is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty (and) territorial integrity, (in the midst of) systematic human rights violations,” Borrell tweeted.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry statement called on the EU, NATO and the G7 to “immediately and significantly” step up pressure on Russia through new sanctions and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine.

According to electoral officials based in Russia, 93% of the votes cast in the Zaporizhzhia region were in favor of annexation, as were 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.

The Kremlin, however, remained impassive in the face of the rain of criticism. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia intended to at least drive Ukrainian forces out of the eastern Donetsk region, where Moscow troops and separatist forces currently control around 60% of the territory.

The EU also expressed outrage over Tuesday’s alleged sabotage of two undersea natural gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany and warned of retaliation for any attacks on European energy networks.

Borrell said Wednesday that “all available information indicates that these leaks were the result of a deliberate act,” although the perpetrators have not yet been identified.

“Any deliberate disruption of Europe’s energy infrastructure is completely unacceptable and will be met with a strong and united response,” Borrell said in a statement on behalf of the 27 EU member countries.

Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said allegations that Russia could be behind the incidents were “predictable and stupid”. He told reporters on a conference call that the damage had caused huge economic losses to Russia.

The war in Ukraine has caused an energy stalemate between the EU, many of whose members have depended on Russian natural gas supplies for years, and Moscow.

The damage makes it unlikely the pipelines will be able to deliver gas to Europe this winter, analysts say.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military and a Washington-based think tank said Wednesday that Russia was sending troops without any training to the front line.

Moscow has struggled to hold the line in the face of Ukraine’s recent counter-offensive and has ordered a partial mobilization to replenish its ranks. The effort, however, causes unrest, amidst a reluctant audience.

During a daily briefing, the Ukrainian army general staff said that the 1st tank regiment of the 2nd motorized rifle division of the 1st Russian tank army received new untrained troops.

The Ukrainian military also said convicts were arriving in Ukraine to reinforce Russian lines. He offered no evidence to support this claim, although Ukraine’s security services released audio recordings of allegedly monitored Russian phone conversations on the matter.

The Institute for the Study of Warfare think tank cited an online video of a man who identified himself as a member of the 1st Tank Regiment, visibly upset, saying he and his colleagues would not receive training before being shipped to Russian-occupied territories. Kherson region in Ukraine.

“Mobilized men with a day or two of training are unlikely to significantly reinforce Russian positions affected by Ukrainian counteroffensives in the south and east,” the institute said.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Ukraine’s counter-offensive, which inflicted humiliating defeats on Moscow’s forces, is progressing slowly.

He said Russia is now building a stronger defense.

In the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, partially occupied by Moscow, Russian fire has killed five people and injured 10 others in the past 24 hours, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the local military authority.

Authorities in the southern Ukrainian town of Nikopol said Russian rockets and artillery pounded the town overnight.

The city, across the Dnipro River from Russian-occupied territory, saw 10 skyscrapers and private buildings hit, along with a school, power lines and other areas, Valentyn Reznichenko said. head of the local military administration.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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