Vladimir Putin will sign a decree annexing four occupied regions in Ukraine tomorrow, the Kremlin has announced. Russian state-owned news agency Tass cites Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, as saying that the ceremony of the signing of agreements into the Russian Federation will be held on Friday at 3pm Moscow time.
The total area set to become de facto part of Russia amounts to about 15% of Ukraine and includes an estimated 4 million people. Following the signing ceremonies in the Kremlin, Putin will give a major speech and will meet with Moscow-appointed administrators of the Ukrainian regions, the Kremlin said.
On Moscow’s Red Square, giant video screens have already been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!”
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said overnight Ukraine will “act to protect our people” in Russian-occupied regions after what he described as “an imitation of referendums”. Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Kyiv and its allies “condemn such actions of Russia and consider them null and worthless”.
Zelenskiy’s spokesperson Sergii Nykyforov has said Ukraine’s president has called an emergency meeting of security and defence officials for Friday.
Sweden’s coast guard earlier this week discovered a fourth gas leak on the damaged Nord Stream pipelines, a coast guard spokesperson told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.
Politicians across Europe have warned that the suspected sabotaging of the two Nord Stream pipelines could herald a new stage of hybrid warfare targeting vulnerable energy infrastructure in order to undermine support of Ukraine. Norway’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, said his country would step up its military presence at Norwegian installations after the country became Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas.
Denmark’s foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, has said that “intentional” explosions caused the leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines, and that it was an “unprecedented” attack.
Nato has said leaks from the Nord Stream gas pipelines appeared to be “deliberate acts of sabotage” and vowed a “united and determined response” to any attacks on their critical infrastructure.
The Kremlin on Wednesday dismissed claims that Russia was behind the attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, describing them as “quite predictable and also predictably stupid”. In a call with reporters, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said the incident needed to be investigated and that the timings for the repair of the damaged pipelines were not clear.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has proposed a fresh round of sanctions on Russia designed “to make the Kremlin pay” for escalating the conflict in Ukraine. The proposed eighth package of “biting” sanctions includes a cap on the price of Russian oil and further curbs on hi-tech trade.
An EU official has given a briefing to Reuters saying that an agreement on the next sanctions package against Russia is expected before next week’s EU summit, or at least major parts of the package.
Hungary will not support the EU’s proposed new round of sanctions if they include energy sanctions, a government official has said.
A report drawn up by an international working group on sanctions concluded Russia should now be declared a “state sponsor of terrorism” and had reached the legal definition of a terrorist state under US and Canadian law. The head of the Office of the Ukrainian Presidency, Andriy Yermak, called for sweeping American and European sanctions in light of the report, after Ukraine accused Russia of sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic Sea.
Britain’s prime minister, Liz Truss, told Zelenskiy in a phone call Wednesday that the UK would never recognise Russian attempts to annex parts of Ukraine, Downing Street said. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, also denounced the “illegal referenda and their falsified outcome” in Ukraine.
Israel has strengthened its hitherto cautious stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it will “not accept the results of the referendum in the eastern districts” of the occupied country. Tuesday night’s statement from the Israeli foreign ministry, which also said it “recognises the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, has been received as an unprecedented show of support for Ukraine, and a rare Israeli rebuke to Moscow.
Russia has escalated its use of Iranian-supplied “kamikaze” drones in southern Ukraine, including against the southern port of Odesa and the nearby city of Mykolaiv, amid estimates that hundreds of weapons may now have been deployed by the Kremlin in Crimea and other occupied areas of the south.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, has said six Ukrainians have been exchanged in a prisoner swap. The six included two civilians, who were arrested and taken to Russia because of the content on their phones, and four Ukrainian soldiers, who fought in Mariupol. They have been returned to Ukraine.
Finland is closing its border to Russian tourists after Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilisation order prompted large numbers of people to flee the country. From midnight Finnish time Thursday (9pm GMT), Russian tourists holding an EU Schengen visa will be turned away unless they have a family tie or compelling reason to stay.
Authorities in the Russian region of North Ossetia, which borders Georgia, are reportedly putting in place travel restrictions to prevent people fleeing to Georgia to avoid conscription. The report by the Moscow Times cites the head of the region, Sergey Menyaylo, as saying that more than 20,000 people had entered Georgia through the section of the border in just the past two days.
The UK ministry of defence has claimed in its latest intelligence briefing that more men have now likely fled conscription from Russia’s partial mobilisation than Russia initially used in its invasion force of Ukraine.
Russian authorities say they are establishing checkpoints at some of the country’s borders to forcibly mobilise Russian men seeking to avoid mobilisation by fleeing the country. Social media footage shows military vehicles moving toward the border, reportedly to establish the mobilisation checkpoint.
Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday they have identified five Russian soldiers who allegedly shot at civilian cars in the Kyiv region during the first days of the war. The Russian soldiers are charged with killing five people, and injuring a further six, who were trying to flee Hostomel on 25 February, a day after Russia invaded.