KYIV, Ukraine (AP) - KYIV, Ukraine - The governor of Ukraine‘s Luhansk region says the number of local voters cited by pro-Russia officials as having participated in a “referendum” on living under Russian rule is inconsistent with the number of people residing in the area after seven months of war.
“In October 2012, when the entire Luhansk region voted (in elections), 1,829 million people were registered as voters. Now, they ‘brought to the polls’ 1,662 million,” Serhiy Haidai, the region’s Ukrainian governor, said.
According to Haidai, between half and two-thirds of the urban population of Luhansk left the region since the start of the war.
“Almost no one is surprised by the results (of the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums). Thousands are outraged, by only a few are surprised,” Haidai said.
Moscow is expected to move quickly to annex the four regions of Ukraine where votes were held. Haidai nonetheless predicted the results of the vote will not affect a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the east, where he says Kyiv’s forces are advancing towards the occupied cities of Luhansk.
- EU vows to act if energy lines hit as firms ramp up security
- US announces $1.1 billion more in military aid for Ukraine
- Moscow tries to draft fleeing Russian men at the borders
- Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
WASHINGTON - The U.S. will provide an additional $1.1 billion in aid to Ukraine, with funding for about 18 more advanced rocket systems and other weapons to counter drones that Russia has been using against Ukrainian troops, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.
The latest package is being provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds contracts to purchase weapons and equipment. And it brings the total of U.S. aid to Ukraine to nearly $17 billion since the Biden administration took office.
The aid announcement comes as Russia moves to annex parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine that held Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on living under Moscow’s rule. The votes were denounced by Kyiv and the West as illegal and rigged.
Since the funding is for contracts for weapons and equipment, it is aimed at helping Ukraine secure its longer-term defense needs. It could take a year or two for Ukraine to get the systems. The U.S. has used Pentagon drawdown authority to provide weapons more immediately, and another announcement for that Defense Department aid is expected early next week.
LARSI, Georgia - Long lines of Russians trying to escape being called up to fight in Ukraine continued to clog highways out of the country on Wednesday, and Moscow reportedly set up draft offices at borders to intercept some of them.
North Ossetia, a Russian region that borders Georgia, declared a state of “high alert” and said that food, water, warming stations and other aid should be brought in for those who have spent days in queues. Volunteers on the Georgian side of the border also have brought water, blankets and other assistance.
North Ossetia restricted many passenger cars from entering its territory, and set up a draft office at the Verkhy Lars border crossing, Russian news agencies said. Some media outlets released photos at the crossing showing a black van with “military enlistment office” written on it.
Another such draft checkpoint was set up in Russia along the Finnish border, according to the independent Russian news outlet Meduza.
Tens of thousands of Russian men have fled in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to bolster struggling Russian forces in Ukraine. Although Putin said the callup was “partial,” aimed at calling up about 300,000 men with past military service, many Russians fear it will be much broader and more arbitrary than that. There are numerous reports of men with no military training and of all ages receiving draft notices.
BRUSSELS - European Union countries should impose “biting sanctions” on Russian trade and hit officials responsible for “sham referendums” held in parts of Ukraine, senior EU officials said Wednesday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia “are an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force.”
“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said. “We propose sweeping new import bans on Russian products.”
The EU’s executive branch, headed by von der Leyen, has drawn up several rafts of sanctions against Russia since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine seven months ago.
Scholz made the pledge Wednesday in a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A spokesman for Scholz said the two discussed Ukraine’s military, political and economic situation as well as possibilities for further support, including in reconstruction.
The chancellor stressed that Germany would not let up in providing concrete support to Ukraine including arms deliveries. He insisted that Germany would “never recognize the results of the sham referendums.”
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that “Spain strongly condemns the illegal simulacra of votes held yesterday in Ukraine.”
“Spain’s government does not grant any legitimacy to the fictitious results announced by the forces of occupation,” the statement added. “Spain firmly rejects any action or decision taken by Russian authorities toward the illegal annexation of the territories in question.”
“Spain’s government … makes a renewed call to Russia to cease its armed aggression and for the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of its troops from Ukrainian territory,” the ministry said.
ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says separation referendums in four Russia-controlled regions in Ukraine complicate efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Erdogan’s comments were carried in a statement from his office issued after a phone call Wednesday with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Erdogan also reiterated during the call Turkey’s readiness to “make the necessary contribution” for a peaceful resolution of the war, offering to act as a mediator or facilitator for the establishment of a demilitarized zone around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
“Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service,” it said.
An Aug. 15 security alert from the embassy warned that Americans could be harassed in Russia and have difficulty obtaining consular assistance.
President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters Wednesday that Serbia “won’t and can’t” endorse the votes also because of Kosovo, whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade does not accept.
“We are protecting our own territorial integrity and it is in our best interest to protect the territorial integrity of internationally recognized countries,” said Vucic. “That is the only thing that cannot change, those things are crucial for us.”
Serbia maintains close relations with Russia despite the war in Ukraine and has refused to join Western sanctions, although the Balkan nation is formally seeking to join the European Union. Belgrade in the past several days has faced criticism for signing a foreign policy agreement with Russia.
The Kherson region head Vladimir Saldo later did the same. The remaining two Russia-occupied regions are expected to follow suit. The requests are seen as a prelude to Putin declaring their annexation in the coming days.
Russia organized voting in four regions it holds on whether they wish to separate from Ukraine and join Russia. The votes have been dismissed by the West and Ukraine as a sham, but the pro-Russia authorities in the four regions have said people overwhelmingly supported separation from Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said such allegations were “predictable and stupid,” noting that Russia has suffered huge economic damage from the incidents.
Seismologists reported Tuesday that explosions rattled the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on two underwater natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany.
Some European leaders and experts pointed to possible sabotage given the energy standoff with Russia provoked by the war in Ukraine. The three leaks were reported on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which are filled with natural gas but are not delivering the fuel to Europe.
Peskov said the pipelines were “filled with gas, all systems were ready for pumping it and the gas is very expensive.”
“This gas costs a lot of money, and now this gas is vanishing into the air,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Dmitry Peskov says at the very least Russia will need to “liberate” the entire Donetsk region, which remains partly controlled by Ukrainian troops.
Commenting on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that Ukraine has the “absolute right” to take back territories seized by Russia regardless of the referendums, Peskov said the comments reflect the increasing U.S. involvement in Ukraine.
“The U.S. is becoming increasingly involved in the conflict de facto, the U.S. is getting increasingly close to becoming a party to the conflict, which potentially is extremely dangerous,” Peskov said.
BERLIN - Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants Germany to take in Russians who do not want to fight in the war against Ukraine.
“I am in favor of offering these people protection,” the chancellor told daily newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung on Wednesday.
“Of course, they have to go through a security check beforehand, so we know who we are letting into our country,” he added.
The German government announced earlier this week that it wants to reach a common solution at the European level on how to deal with Russian deserters.
ROME, Italy - The leader of a far-right party likely to be Italy’s next premier has reassured the Ukrainian leader of Italy’s support for Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian invasion.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy, reassured Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a tweet Tuesday night that “you know that you can count on our loyal support for the cause of freedom of Ukrainian people. Stay strong and keep your faith steadfast!”
Meloni was responding to a tweet of congratulations in which Zelenskyy expressed appreciation for “Italy’s continued support to Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression.”
“We are counting on a fruitful collaboration with the new government,” he said.
The Brother’s of Italy, which has neo-fascist roots, led Sunday’s parliamentary election and is set to lead a new government with its right-wing coalition partners, Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, both of whom have had ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry is urging against traveling to Russia and advising Bulgarian citizens there to consider leaving the country by any means of transport available.
The ministry advises Bulgarians who will stay in Russia to be vigilant, avoid crowded places and pay close attention to how the situation develops.
ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish media report that Turkey’s state banks have suspended transactions through Russia’s payment system, following U.S. threats of secondary sanctions on Turkish banks that accept the system.
Private NTV television and other media reported Wednesday that state-owned banks Vakiflar Bankasi, Ziraat Bankasi and Halk Bankasi decided to halt the use of the Mir system.
The decision comes days after two private banks, Is Bank and Denizbank, also stopped transactions through Mir.
NATO-member Turkey has not joined U.S. and European sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, retaining its close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv and positioning itself as a mediator between the two.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey was looking for alternatives to the Mir system, which allowed Russian tourists and those living in Turkey to access their accounts.
A statement on Wednesday says Ukraine “will never agree to any Russian ultimatums.” Instead, Ukraine asked for further international financial and other support, including “tanks, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, long-range artillery, anti-aircraft and missile defense equipment.”
Kyiv has received billions in aid from the U.S. and other Western nations since Russia invaded in February. The Foreign Ministry statement described the referendums as a continuation of the Russian aggression.
“Forcing people in these territories to fill out some papers at the barrel of a gun is yet another Russian crime in the course of its aggression against Ukraine,” the ministry said. “Moscow’s attempts to create new separation lines or weaken international support for Ukraine are doomed to fail.”
Kremlin-installed governments in the four areas have all declared landslide victories.
In a message posted on Twitter, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said: “This is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty + territorial integrity, amidst systematic abuses of human rights. We commend the courage of Ukrainians, who continue to oppose & resist Russian invasion.”
Pro-Moscow officials in the eastern Luhansk region and partially occupied southern region of Zaporizhzhia said they will make the request later on Wednesday, while officials in the neighboring Kherson region said they will do so “in the coming days.”
Separatist officials in the Donetsk region, large swaths of which still remain under Ukrainian control, are expected to follow suit.
Pro-Moscow administrations of all four occupied regions of Ukraine said Tuesday night that their residents had voted to join Russia. Western officials have dismissed the referendums as illegal, but Putin is likely to use them to declare annexation of the four regions.
BRUSSELS - The European Union’s top diplomat says the bloc suspects that damage to two underwater natural gas pipelines was sabotage and is warning of retaliation for any attack on Europe’s energy networks.
Josep Borell said Wednesday that “all available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” He added that any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure “is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.”
Seismologists reported Tuesday that explosions rattled the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on two underwater natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany. Three leaks were reported on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. They are not currently delivering fuel to Europe.
The Institute for the Study of War cited one online video by a man who identified himself as a member of the 1st Tank Regiment, visibly upset, saying that he and his colleagues wouldn’t receive training before shipping out to the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine.
“Mobilized men with a day or two of training are unlikely to meaningfully reinforce Russian positions affected by Ukrainian counteroffensives in the south and east,” the institute said.
In a daily briefing, the Ukrainian military’s general staff also said the 1st Tank Regiment of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division of the 1st Tank Army has received new troops coming without any training.
The Ukrainian military also claimed prisoners were arriving in Ukraine to reinforce the Russian lines. It offered no evidence to support the claim.
The city, across the Dnipro River from Russian-occupied territory, saw 10 high-rises and private buildings hit, as well as a school, power lines and other areas, said Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of the local military administration.
He said there were no immediate casualties reported from the attacks.
In the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, which is partially occupied by Moscow, Russian fire killed five people and wounded 10 others over the past 24 hours, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the local military authority.
He said four people died in Kurakhovo and one person in Bakhmut from the attacks.
“Units are making slow advances on at least two axes east from the line of the Oskil and Siverskyy Donets rivers, where forces had consolidated following their previous advance earlier in the month,” the British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence briefing Wednesday.
“Russia is mounting a more substantive defense than previously, likely because the Ukrainian advance now threatens parts of Luhansk … as voting in the referendum on accession to the Russian Federation closes.”
The British added that fighting remains intense around Kherson in Ukraine’s south as the Russian military “remains vulnerable” on the eastern banks of the Dnipro River.
“Russia continues its grinding attempts to advance near Bakhmut in the Donbas even while it faces severe pressure on its northern and southern flanks,” the British said. “This is likely due to political pressure as Russia is using forces that could otherwise reinforce the other flanks.”
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