Ukraine latest: annexation votes start in Russian-occupied areas


On the eve of the war’s seven-month mark, voting began Friday in four Moscow-occupied territories on whether to join Russia. Ukraine’s government and its allies have slammed the referendums as shams, reminiscent of a similar ballot in Crimea in 2014 ahead of annexation. “We cannot — we will not — allow President Putin to get away with it,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

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

The mandatory troop call-up triggered protests around the country. Thousands took to the streets in the biggest demonstrations since the early days of the war. Conscription-age men rushed to find ways to flee the country.

Key developments

  • Putin’s Conscripts Won’t Win His War But May Drag It Out
  • Russia Stages ‘Referendums’ to Annex Occupied Ukraine Lands
  • EU Rushes to Agree on an Oil Price Cap After Putin’s Threats
  • Russia’s Lavrov Scorns West by Arriving Late at UN, Walking Out
  • Russia Sets Out How Much It’s Going to Cut Gas Flow Through 2025

On the ground

Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces continue to suffer losses, including among leadership, including a Major General wounded in a recent strike at Svatove in Luhansk region. The claim can’t be verified. Russia overnight struck the city of Zaporizhzhia with missiles, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said. A loud blast was heard in Melitopol, also in the Zaporizhzhia region, early Friday. Over the past day Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks near eight settlements, including in the vicinity of Donetsk and in the Kharkiv region. The UK defence department said Ukrainian forces have secured “bridgeheads” on the east bank of the Oskil River in Kharkiv oblast. “Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory Russian considers essential to its war aims,” the UK said.

Russia Stages ‘Referendums’ to Annex Occupied Lands (9:40 a.m.) 

Russia on Friday began staging UN-condemned “votes” on annexing the roughly fifth of neighboring Ukraine it occupies in a step that marks a new escalation in the spiraling conflict between President Vladimir Putin and the US and its allies.

State media reported overwhelming support for accession to Russia in the four regions that its troops partially control. In Moscow, officials vowed to move quickly to finalize the absorption of the territories.

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

Putin’s Conscripts May Merely Drag Out His War (9:31 a.m.) 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to draft in 300,000 reservists to reinforce his troops in Ukraine is likely to extend the war rather than influence its outcome.

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

Putin Loyalist Criticizes Prisoner Swap With Ukraine (9:23 a.m.)

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov added to domestic criticism over Russia’s exchange of prisoners of war with Ukraine announced on Wednesday. “The whole situation is incomprehensible,” he wrote on Telegram to his 2.6 million followers, while being careful to declare that “any order” by President Vladimir Putin must be implemented.

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

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

Zelenskiy Said Russia’s Votes, Mobilization ‘Bury’ Peace Prospects (8:30 a.m.)

Moscow was “burying” the prospects of talks with Kyiv with this week’s actions, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an address to the nation on Thursday.

“Russia declares that it supposedly wants negotiations, but announces mobilization,” Zelenskiy said. Ukraine’s position on the impossibility of diplomacy after “sham referenda” was clear, he said.

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

Among EU, Only Hungary Held Bilateral Talks With Russia at UN (8:20 a.m)

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

The pair discussed Hungary’s reliance on Russian energy, Szijjarto said after the meeting. Russia has cut gas supplies to much of the continent in retaliation for EU sanctions for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

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

Putin’s Mobilisation Will Take Time, Won’t Solve Problems, US Says (9:46 p.m.)

Putin’s mobilization of as many as 300,000 reservists won’t happen quickly and won’t solve problems of morale and weak command that have hobbled Russian troops in Ukraine, according to the Pentagon.

“It would take time for Russia to train and prepare and equip these forces,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Defense Department’s spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon. “While in many ways this may address a manpower issue for Russia, what is not clear is whether or not it could significantly address the command-and-control, the logistics, the sustainment and importantly the morale issues that we have seen Russian forces in Ukraine experience.”

Russia’s Lavrov Scorns West by Arriving Late at UN, Walking Out (9 p.m.)

The UN Security Council gave Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov an icy reception when he went before it to defend his nation’s invasion of Ukraine. The veteran diplomat made sure he didn’t stick around to hear the criticism.

In a show of defiance toward Western condemnation, Lavrov arrived well after the council opened a special meeting to discuss the Ukraine conflict on Thursday. He gave his speech — accusing the West of forcing Russia to invade to protect itself — and then walked out.

EU Rushes to Agree on an Oil Price Cap After Putin’s Threats (8:36 p.m.)

European Union member states are racing to clinch a political agreement within weeks that would impose a price cap on Russian oil.

The push has gained steam since Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an escalation of Russia’s war in Ukraine and will likely feature as part of a new a package of sanctions to be proposed by the European Commission, according to people familiar with the matter. A cap would align the EU with a US effort to keep the cost of crude from soaring and to hit Moscow’s revenue.

Despite the new effort from the commission, the EU’s executive arm, 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 identified because the discussions are private.

Russia Outlines Reduced Gas Flows Over Next Three Years (5:32 p.m.)

Russia set out just how much its gas flows to the global market will fall in the next three years — and the numbers underscore the scale of the challenge facing Europe’s energy consumers.

Annual pipeline gas exports are set to drop by almost 40% to 125.2 billion cubic meters in 2023-2025, according to the nation’s three-year draft plan, seen by Bloomberg News. Pipeline gas exports is estimated at 142 billion cubic meters this year, the draft showed.

Putin Ally Says Nuclear Shield to Protect Annexed Ukraine Regions (2:17 p.m.)

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

Four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine are due to hold referendums on joining Russia starting from Friday. The votes have been denounced as “shams” by the G-7.

“The defense of all territories will be significantly bolstered by the Russian armed forces” drawn into a new mobilization announced this week, Medvedev said on Telegram.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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