New Ukraine: Voting on annexation begins in Russian-occupied territories

On the eve of the seven-month mark of the war, voting on whether to join Russia began Friday in four Moscow-held territories. The Ukrainian government and its allies have called the referenda a sham, reminiscent of a similar vote in Crimea in 2014 before the annexation. “We cannot – we will not – allow President Putin to get away with this,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

The elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as in Kherson and Zaporizhia mark an escalation in Russia’s plans to annex parts of its neighbor. They follow recent military setbacks by Russian troops and President Vladimir Putin’s move to call up up to 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine.

The mandatory call-up of troops sparked protests across the country. Thousands took to the streets in the largest demonstrations since the beginning of the war. Men of draft age rushed to find ways to flee the country.

Important Developments

  • Putin’s conscripts will not win his war, but they may prolong it
  • Russia holds “referendums” to annex occupied Ukrainian territories
  • EU rushes to agree oil price cap after Putin threats
  • Russia’s Lavrov despises the West by arriving late at the UN and walking out
  • Russia sets out how much it will cut gas flow by 2025

On the ground

Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces continue to suffer casualties, including among leaders including a major general who was wounded in a recent strike in Svatove in the Luhansk region. The claim cannot be verified. Russia hit the city of Zaporizhia with rockets overnight, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said. A loud explosion was heard in Melitopol, also in the Zaporizhia region, early on Friday. Over the past day, Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks near eight settlements, including near Donetsk and in the Kharkiv region. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces had secured “bridgeheads” on the east bank of the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast. “Ukraine is now putting pressure on areas that Russia deems essential to its war goals,” the UK said.

Russia Holds “Referendums” on Annexation of Occupied Territories (9:40 a.m.)

Russia on Friday began staging UN-condemned “votes” to annex about a fifth of neighboring Ukraine it occupies. This is a move that marks a new escalation in the deepening conflict between President Vladimir Putin and the US and its allies.

State media reported overwhelming support for joining Russia in the four regions that its forces partially control. In Moscow, officials pledged to act quickly to complete the takeover of the territories.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the votes a “violation of the UN Charter and international law”.

Putin’s Conscripts Might Only Prolong His War (9:31 am)

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to call up 300,000 reservists to reinforce his troops in Ukraine is more likely to prolong the war than affect its outcome.

Still, it could buy him time to implement a broader strategy — including deepening Europe’s energy crisis and threatening a nuclear strike on unspecified targets — aimed at undermining foreign military and financial support for Kiev’s war effort.

Putin loyalist criticizes prisoner swap with Ukraine (9:23 a.m.)

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov added to domestic criticism of the exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine announced on Wednesday. “The whole situation is incomprehensible,” he wrote on Telegram to his 2.6 million followers, careful to explain that “every order” from President Vladimir Putin must be implemented.

Kadyrov also indicated that he has no plans to round up reservists after Putin’s partial mobilization order, claiming that volunteers in the largely Muslim southern Russian republic had already “overfilled their quota by 254%” before the call-up was announced.

The Chechen regime, which has been accused of repeated human rights abuses, has recently become increasingly critical of Russia’s warfare while declaring its total loyalty to Putin.

Zelenskyy Said Russia’s Voices, Mobilization “Buried” Peace Chances (8:30 a.m.)

Moscow is “burying” prospects for talks with Kyiv with this week’s actions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address to the nation on Thursday.

“Russia says it wants negotiations, but announces mobilization,” Zelensky said. Ukraine’s position on the impossibility of diplomacy after “sham referendums” is clear, he said.

Putin’s new draft also meant that the war in Ukraine “is not something on TV or the internet for the majority of Russian citizens, but something that has invaded every Russian home,” he said.

Among the EU, only Hungary held bilateral talks with Russia at the UN (8:20 a.m.)

Hungary’s Peter Szijjarto was the only EU foreign minister to hold talks with Russia’s Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, thereby underscoring the special relationship between Budapest and Moscow.

The couple spoke about Hungary’s dependence on Russian energy, Szijjarto said after the meeting. In retaliation for EU sanctions against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia has cut gas supplies to much of the continent.

Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban this week called for the lifting of trade restrictions against Russia, has been rewarded with extra gas volumes on top of the contracted amounts.

Putin’s mobilization will take time, won’t solve problems, US says (9:46 p.m.)

Putin’s mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists will not happen quickly and will not solve the problems of morale and weak command that have hampered Russian troops in Ukraine, the Pentagon said.

“Russia needs time to train, prepare and equip these forces,” Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. “While this could address a personnel issue for Russia in many ways, it’s not clear if it could significantly address the command and control function, logistics, maintenance, and most importantly, the morale issues we’ve seen the Russian armed forces in or not Ukraine experience.”

Russia’s Lavrov scorns West by arriving late at UN and walking out (9pm)

The UN Security Council gave Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov an icy welcome as he stepped forward to defend his country’s invasion of Ukraine. The veteran diplomat made sure not to listen to the criticism.

In a show of defiance of the West’s condemnation, Lavrov arrived well after the council opened a special session to discuss the Ukraine conflict on Thursday. He made his speech – in which he accused the West of forcing Russia into an invasion to protect itself – and then walked out.

EU rushes to agree oil price cap after Putin threats (8:36 p.m.)

The member states of the European Union are trying to reach a political agreement within a few weeks that will prescribe a price cap for Russian oil.

The push has gained momentum since Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an escalation of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and is likely to be part of a new sanctions package to be proposed by the European Commission, those familiar with the matter said people matter. A cap would bring the EU in line with US efforts to keep crude oil prices from skyrocketing and hurt Moscow’s revenues.

Despite new efforts from the Commission, the EU executive and some member states, the plan faces many hurdles and a positive outcome is not a given, said the people, who asked not to be named because discussions are private.

Russia outlines reduced gas flows in next three years (5:32 p.m.)

Russia has outlined how sharply its gas flows to the world market will decline over the next three years – and the figures underscore the magnitude of the challenge facing Europe’s energy consumers.

According to the nation’s three-year draft plan, seen by Bloomberg News, annual pipeline gas exports are expected to fall nearly 40% to 125.2 billion cubic meters between 2023 and 2025. Pipeline gas exports are estimated at 142 billion cubic meters this year, the draft showed.

Putin Ally says nuclear shield to protect annexed Ukrainian regions (2:17 p.m.)

Former President Dmitry Medvedev, now a senior security official, said Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons to protect newly annexed Ukrainian regions and is joining President Vladimir Putin in ramping up nuclear threats.

Four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine are scheduled to hold referenda on joining Russia starting Friday. The votes were described as “sham” by the G-7.

“Defenses of all areas will be significantly reinforced by Russian forces,” Medvedev said in a new mobilization announced this week.

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