President Zelenskyy says Donetsk is Ukraine's top priority as separatist votes in four Ukrainian regions held by Moscow's forces draw to a close on the 216th day of the conflict.

People receive their ballots at a polling station during a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine. September 27, 2022.
People receive their ballots at a polling station during a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine. September 27, 2022. (Reuters)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Zelenskyy: Ukraine won’t negotiate with Russia after referenda

Kiev will not be able to negotiate with Russia after Moscow held annexation “referendums” in four occupied Ukrainian regions, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the United Nations General Assembly.

"Russia’s recognition of the pseudo referendums as ‘normal’, implementation of the so-called Crimean scenario, and yet another attempt to annex Ukrainian territory means that there is nothing to talk about with (the) current Russian president,” he said in a video message. 

Zelenskyy pledged that Kiev will act to defend Ukrainians in all occupied areas, saying that the referenda are “not even imitations of a referendum.”

UN calls Russia’s referendums to annex Ukrainian territories ‘illegal’

The UN’s political chief has said that Russian-backed referendums in Ukraine’s occupied territories are “not a genuine expression of popular will” or “legal” under international law.

Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one State of another State’s territory while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law,” Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council.

She said the UN remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine and demanded that Russia, under international law, respect the laws of Ukraine in its occupied territories.

China urges respect for ‘territorial integrity’ after Russia’s referenda

China has told the United Nations Security Council that “territorial integrity” should be respected after Moscow held controversial annexation referendums in Russia-occupied regions of Ukraine.

“Our position and proposition on how to view and handle the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear: That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected,” said ambassador Zhang Jun, whose government in Beijing is sometimes seen by the West as being too accommodating with Russia.

Sham referenda held by Russia have no legitimacy: NATO

Referendums in four regions of Ukraine on whether to join Russia have no legitimacy, the NATO chief reiterated, as voting is set to draw to a close.

"Just spoke with President Zelenskyy & made clear that NATO Allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty & right to self-defence. The sham referenda held by Russia have no legitimacy & are a blatant violation of international law. These lands are Ukraine," Jens Stoltenberg said on Twitter.

Moscow's proxies in Ukraine regions report big votes to join Russia

Moscow-appointed officials in Russia-controlled regions of Ukraine reported huge majorities in favour of becoming part of Russia after five days of voting in so-called referendums that Kiev and the West denounced as a sham.

Hastily arranged votes had taken place in four areas - Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson - that make up about 15 percent of Ukrainian territory.

Luhansk authorities said 98.5 percent of people there had voted to join Russia, based on 69 percent of ballots counted. 

Ukraine will not be swayed by Russian nuclear threats, annexation votes: Kiev

Ukraine will not be swayed by any nuclear threats from Moscow or annexation votes held on its territory and will press ahead with its plan to wrest back all its occupied land from Russia, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said.

The official, Mykhailo Podolyak, said in an interview that Kiev wanted the world's nuclear powers to warn Russia that any use of strategic or tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be met with concrete action - and not just a UN Security Council resolution.

Blasts recorded before Russia-Europe pipeline leaks

Explosions were recorded before mysterious leaks in two Baltic Sea gas pipelines linking Russia and Europe, seismologists said, raising suspicions of sabotage amid tensions over Moscow's offensive on Ukraine.

Photos taken by the Danish military showed large masses of bubbles on the surface of the water emanating from the three leaks in Sweden and Denmark's economic zones north of Poland, from 200 to 1,000 metres (656 feet to 0.62 miles) in diameter.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that while the details of what happened were not yet known, "we see clearly that it's an act of sabotage, one that probably marks the next step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine".

No change to US nuclear posture due to Russia threats, Pentagon says

Despite Russian threats to Ukraine and NATO about the use of nuclear weapons, the Pentagon has not seen any changes that would lead it to alter the posture of American nuclear forces, a spokesman said.

"We obviously take these threats seriously. But at this stage, we've not seen anything that would cause us to adjust our own nuclear posture at this time," Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing.

Pressed on whether there had been any new Russian movements of its nuclear forces, Ryder declined to elaborate beyond saying the United States did not "have any reason to adjust our posture at this stage."

Number of Russians entering EU jumps

The number of Russians entering the European Union has jumped following a partial mobilisation ordered by Moscow, and illegal crossings are likely to increase if Russia closes its border for potential conscripts, EU border agency Frontex said.

Following setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation on September 21, a move that sent thousands of Russians rushing to cross borders into neighbouring countries.

"Over the past week, nearly 66,000 Russian citizens entered the EU, more than 30 percent compared to the preceding week. Most of them arrived in Finland and Estonia," Frontex said in a statement, referring to the week from Sept 19 to Sept 25.

Neighbours see massive arrivals of Russians fleeing draft 'chaos'

Georgia and Kazakhstan said that tens of thousands of Russians had flooded into their countries from neighbouring Russia since the announcement of partial mobilisation to fight in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week announced the call-up of thousands of reservists, sparking a rush among Russian men for the borders.

Blinken says West will 'never recognise' pro-Russia annexation votes in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed that the West will never recognise Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory, which he called part of a "diabolical scheme" by Moscow.

"We and many other countries have already been crystal clear. We will not -- indeed, we will never - recognise the annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia," Blinken told reporters as Kremlin proxies started to claim victory.

Blinken repeated President Joe Biden's threat that the United States "will impose additional swift and severe costs on Russia" for going ahead with the referendums.

UN deplores 'dire' rights situation, extrajudicial killings in Ukraine

The United Nations human rights office has said Russia's assault  on Ukraine has caused a dire human rights situation and led to a wide range of rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture, that could amount to "war crimes".

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a report that it was particularly concerned about torture and ill treatment of detainees by Russian forces and affiliated armed groups, but said there had been rights violations by both sides.

Kiev and Moscow did not immediately comment on the report, carried out between February 1 and July 31 and based on work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The OHCHR said it was continuing to document and verify allegations of unlawful killings of hundreds of civilians in the Kiev, Sumy and Kharkiv regions. It said it had also documented at least six killings of civilians perceived as traitors for alleged collaboration with Russia in occupied areas.

UN 'deeply disturbed' at thousands arrested in Russia protests

The UN has voiced alarm at credible reports of nearly 2,400 arrests in less than a week of protests in Russia against the draft ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

"We are deeply disturbed by the large number of people who have reportedly been arrested," United Nations rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

Russian authorities have cracked down on criticism of the conflict in Ukraine, arresting thousands of protesters since the beginning of the conflict in February. But the arrests have sky-rocketed since Putin announced last Wednesday a partial military mobilisation to bolster troops in Ukraine.

Russia shuns Oscars as Ukraine standoff hits arts

Russia has decided not to put forward a film to compete in the Oscars this year, as Moscow's deteriorating ties with the West over Ukraine have hit arts and culture.

"The presidium of the Film Academy of Russia has decided not to nominate a national film for the Oscars award of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2022," the Russian academy said in a statement late Monday.

The head of the committee responsible for selecting a nomination said on Tuesday that he had resigned in the wake of a decision taken "behind his back".

EU to sanction organisers of Russia votes in Ukraine

The EU has said it will slap sanctions on organisers of "illegal" votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine that Russia is conducting as "referendums" with the aim of annexation.

"There would be consequences for all people who participate in the illegal, illegitimate referendums," Peter Stano, a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, told journalists as the voting took place for a fifth and final day.

Putin expects 'record' 150-million-tonne grain harvest in 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country expects a record-high grain harvest in 2022 as Moscow blames Western sanctions over Ukraine for preventing its exports, especially to poor countries.

"The preliminary estimate (for 2022) already stands at 150 million tonnes, including around 100 million tonnes of wheat. This will be a record in the history of Russia," Putin said in televised remarks.

Kremlin 'extremely concerned' about Nord Stream leaks

The Kremlin has said it is "extremely concerned" about reported leaks on Russia's Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe and its twin pipeline Nord Stream 2.

"This is a completely unprecedented situation that requires urgent investigation. We are extremely concerned about this news," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Asked by reporters whether it could be an act of sabotage, Peskov said: "it is impossible to exclude any options".

Scandinavian authorities said on Tuesday that two leaks had been identified on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in the Baltic Sea — one in the Danish economic zone and the other in Sweden's — hours after a drop in pressure was reported on Nord Stream 2.

Nuclear threat ‘is not a bluff’, Russia’s Medvedev warns

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said Moscow has the right to defend itself with nuclear weapons if it is pushed beyond its limits and that this is "certainly not a bluff".

Medvedev, deputy chairperson of Russia's Security Council, also warned that Moscow has the right to respond "without much consultation", as tensions rise with the West over referendums held in large swathes of Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.

Medvedev has regularly issued aggressive statements on the West and Ukraine in recent months, underlining his transformation from an apparently Western-minded liberaliser as president from 2008-2012 to strident geopolitical hawk.

French foreign minister Colonna in Kiev for visit

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is in Kiev on an unannounced visit to Ukraine in a show of support for the country attacked by Russia.

"Good morning Ukraine, it's good to be back," she wrote on social media, posting a picture of herself walking in Kiev with the French ambassador to Ukraine Etienne de Poncins.

Kazakhstan to ensure safety of Russians fleeing draft

Kazakhstan will ensure the care and safety of Russians fleeing a "hopeless situation," the president of the Central Asian country said, as Russian men fled the Ukraine military call-up.

"Recently we've had many people from Russia coming here. Most of them are forced to leave because of the hopeless situation. We must take care of them and ensure their safety," Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was quoted as saying by his press service. 

"This is a political and humanitarian issue," he said. 

The Kazakh leader also condemned Moscow's attack against Ukraine and called for respect of territorial integrity, as Russia held annexation referendums in four Ukrainian regions.

The territorial integrity of states must be unshakeable. This is a key principle.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan

Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline hit by leaks in Baltic Sea

Two leaks have been identified on the Nord Stream 1 Russia-to-Europe gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, hours after a similar incident on its twin pipeline, Scandinavian authorities said.

"Authorities have now been informed that there have been another two leaks on Nord Stream 1, which likewise is not in operation but contains gas," the Danish climate and energy minister Dan Jorgensen said.

Following the leaks, Jorgensen said the authorities called for "higher levels of preparedness in the electricity and gas sector" in the country.

Japan slams ‘unbelievable’ treatment of diplomat detained in Russia

Japan demanded Russia apologise for detaining a diplomat over alleged espionage, denying the charge and accusing Moscow of blindfolding and pinning the man down in "unbelievable acts".

The Japanese diplomat based in the eastern city of Vladivostok was deemed "persona non grata over illegal intelligence activities", top government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, citing the Russian foreign ministry.

The official was blindfolded, with pressure applied to both his hands and head so he was unable to move while being detained, and then he was questioned in an overbearing way.

Hirokazu Matsuno, Top government spokesman

Russian separatists in Ukraine hold last day annexation votes

Annexation polls organised by Kremlin-backed authorities in four regions of Ukraine mostly controlled by Russian forces were due to close on Tuesday, with Moscow's threats of nuclear weapons looming.

Kiev and its allies have denounced the votes as a sham and said the West would never recognise the results of the ballots which are ratcheting up the stakes of Russia's seven-month offensive.

Russian forces in Ukraine this month have suffered serious setbacks, both in the east and south of the country, which observers say pushed President Vladimir Putin to rush ahead with the vote to cement Moscow's authority there.

Putin said Russia would use any and all available means to defend its territory, implying that after the four regions — Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — were annexed Moscow could deploy strategic nuclear weapons to repulse Ukrainian attempts to take back the territory.

Donetsk 'No. 1 goal' of Ukraine: Zelenskyy

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the military situation in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region as difficult and said it was the country's "No. 1 goal" because it was also Russia's No. 1 goal.

"The situation in the Donetsk region is particularly severe," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. "We are doing everything to contain enemy activity. This is our No. 1 goal right now because Donbass is still the No. 1 goal for the occupiers."

Since Russian forces moved into Ukraine in late February they have occupied nearly all of the Luhansk region and are slowly advancing through the Donetsk region — the two provinces making up Donbass.

For live updates from Monday (September 26), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies