Kyiv: Russian-installed officials in occupied regions of Ukraine said on Wednesday they would ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate them into his country, a day after claiming that their residents overwhelmingly supported such a move in Kremlin-orchestrated votes widely viewed as illegitimate.
The preordained outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia’s seven-month war with its smaller, pro-West neighbor, with the Kremlin threatening to throw more troops into the battle and potentially use nuclear weapons.
The referendums asking residents whether they wanted the four occupied southern and eastern Ukraine regions to be incorporated into Russia began on September 23, often with armed officials going door-to-door collecting votes.
Pro-Moscow officials in the eastern Luhansk region and the partially occupied southern region of Zaporizhzhia said they would make the request on Wednesday. The Russian-backed administration of the neighboring occupied Kherson region said such a request would be made “in the coming days.”
Speaking via video link to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that consider the inviolability of borders to be vital for themselves.”
Separatist officials in the eastern Donetsk region, large swaths of which still remain under Ukrainian control, are also expected to follow suit.
According to Russian-installed election officials, 93 percent of the ballots cast in Zaporizhzhia supported annexation, as did 87 percent in Kherson, 98 percent in Luhansk, and 99 percent in Donetsk.
Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed the votes as a sham. Zelenskyy said Russia’s attempts to annex Ukrainian territory would mean “there is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia.”
As the Kremlin paved the way for the annexation of the occupied lands, its troops continued to shell other areas of the country.
Authorities in the southern Ukrainian city of Nikopol say Russian rockets and artillery have pounded the city overnight. The city, across the Dnieper River from Russian-occupied territory, which includes the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, saw 10 high-rises and private buildings hit, as well as a school, power lines and other areas, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
There were no immediate casualties reported from the attacks, he added.
In Donetsk, which is partially occupied by Moscow, Russian fire killed five people and wounded 10 others over the past 24 hours, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, its governor.