Russia has sought to defend its seven-month war, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telling the United Nations that areas of Ukraine where widely criticized referendums are being held would have Russia’s “full protection” if they were annexed by Moscow.
Voting in four regions of eastern Ukraine, aimed at annexing territory Russia has taken by force since its invasion in February, was scheduled for a third day on Sunday. The Russian parliament could decide to formalize the annexation in a few days.
By incorporating the four regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into Russia, Moscow could present attacks aimed at retaking them as an attack on Russia itself, a warning to Kyiv and its Western allies.
Russian annexations increase the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance, as Western weapons are used by Ukrainian troops.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss has said Britain and its allies should disregard threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin who made what she called a strategic mistake.
“I don’t think he anticipated the reaction force of the free world,” she told CNN.
“We shouldn’t listen to his slashes and false threats. Instead, what we need to do is keep imposing sanctions on Russia and keep supporting the Ukrainians,” Truss said in the interview that aired on Sunday.
Ukraine and its allies have dismissed the referendums as a sham designed to justify an escalation of the war and a campaign to mobilize Moscow after recent battlefield losses.
Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first military mobilization since World War II. The move sparked protests across Russia and scared away many men of military age.
On Sunday, two of Russia’s top lawmakers issued a series of complaints about the mobilization, ordering regional officials to bring the situation under control and quickly resolve the “excesses” that have stoked public anger.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly and global media in New York on Saturday, Lavrov sought to justify Russia’s invasion of his neighbor, repeating Moscow’s false claims that the elected government in Kyiv had been illegitimately installed and filled with neo-Nazis.
He opposed what Russia calls a “special operation” limited to the United States and countries under its sway. Nearly three-quarters of the states in the Assembly voted to reprimand Russia and demand that it withdraw its troops.
Lavrov told a news conference after his speech that the regions where the votes are underway would be under Moscow’s “full protection” if annexed by Russia.
When asked if Russia would have reason to use nuclear weapons to defend annexed regions, Lavrov said that Russian territory, including territory “still enshrined” in the Russian constitution in the future, ” is under the full protection of the State”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia’s mentions of the possible use of nuclear weapons were “absolutely unacceptable” and that Kyiv would not give in to them.
The State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, could debate bills integrating Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine into Russia on Thursday, the official TASS news agency said on Saturday, citing an unnamed source.
The Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying the upper house could consider the bill the same day, and RIA Novosti, also quoting an unnamed source, said Putin could be preparing to make an official address at an extraordinary joint session. of both chambers on Friday.
Russia says referendums, hastily organized after Ukraine recaptured swathes of the northeast in a counter-offensive this month, allow people in those areas to express their views .
The territory controlled by Russian forces or supported by Russia in the four regions represents approximately 15% of Ukrainian territory.
By adding Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, Russia would have gained an area the size of the US state of Pennsylvania.
However, Russia does not fully control any of the four regions, with only around 60% of the Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces or supported by Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday that his country would get back all the territory Russia had taken.
“We will definitely liberate our whole country – from Kherson to the Luhansk region, from Crimea to the Donetsk region,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
Ukraine and Russia traded accusations of attacks on civilians on Sunday, with the Ukrainian military saying Russian forces had launched dozens of missile attacks and airstrikes on military and civilian targets in recent years. 24 hours.
Russia used drones to attack the center of the southern city of Odessa, the Ukrainian military said. No casualties were reported.
Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians.
Its state news agency RIA reported that Ukrainian forces bombed a hotel in the city of Kherson, killing two people. Russian forces have occupied the city from the south since the early days of the February 24 invasion.
There was no immediate response from Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said Ukrainian forces had continued their attacks around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the south of the country, including launching eight “suicide drones” at the facility, which it controls.
Reuters was unable to verify reports from the battlefield.
Putin’s mobilization campaign has sparked unrest in Russia. More than 2,000 people have been arrested across the country for protesting against the project, according to independent monitoring group OVD-Info.
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