Ukraine war: Putin’s annexation of four regions a dangerous escalation, warns UN

Vladimir Putin will begin formally annexing four Ukrainian regions to Russia tomorrow, a move the United Nations condemned, warning it would mark a “dangerous escalation” of the conflict.

Ukrainian troops have been fighting to capture the Russian-held eastern town of Lyman, threatening a new setback for Putin’s campaign in Donbas, one of the regions involved.

“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky summoned his security and defence chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday, and promised a robust response to a step he says has killed off chances of reviving peace talks.

The votes of the “sham” referendums are “worthless and do not change reality. The territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored. And our reaction to recognition of the results by Russia will be very harsh,” he said.

The pro-Russian figures Moscow considers leaders of the Ukrainian regions will attend Putin’s annexation ceremony in the Kremlin.

A big concert will be held on Moscow’s Red Square, where giant video screens have been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson - Russia!”

Key Points

  • Ukraine vows ‘very harsh’ response to Russian annexation

  • Russia to claim sovereignty over parts of Ukraine tomorrow, says Kremlin

  • Fourth Nord Stream leak reported in Baltic Sea amid accusations of ‘sabotage'

  • Putin’s mobilisation sparking mass Russia 'brain drain' - MoD

  • Residents in occupied territories say ‘nobody voted’ in referendums

04:31 , Arpan Rai

Good morning, welcome to our coverage of the Ukraine war on Thursday, 29 September.

Russia to take away Ukrainian territories 'within a week’

05:18 , Arpan Rai

Top Russian officials have said the four separatist Ukrainian territories — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — will break away from Kyiv and join Moscow within a week.

The Russia-backed administrations in these four provinces have formally asked the Kremlin to be inducted into Russia.

“This should happen within a week,” said Rodion Miroshnik, the Russia-installed ambassador to Moscow of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.

“The main thing has already happened as the referendum has taken place. Therefore, let’s say: the locomotive has already started and it’s unlikely to be stopped,” he said.

Russian parliament officials have said they are looking to bring in the four partially occupied regions on 4 October, just three days before Vladimir Putin turns 70.

Zelensky warns against capture of Ukrainian land by Russia

05:34 , Arpan Rai

Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine is now bracing to respond to the referendum aimed at shrinking the country’s territory.

“Our key task now is to coordinate actions with partners in response to sham referenda organised by Russia and all related threats.

This is not 2014. Everything is clear for everyone. And there will certainly be actions,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian president said he held a series of negotiations with world leaders including Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, UK PM Liz Truss, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres and EU council president Charles Michel.

“Thank you all for your clear and unequivocal support. Thank you all for understanding our position. Ukraine cannot and will not put up with any attempts by Russia to seize any part of our land,” Mr Zelensky said in his address.

Leaked gas continues to bubble up in Baltic Sea

06:22 , Arpan Rai

Leaked gas continued to bubble up in the Baltic Sea for the third day in a row after explosions ripped through the underwater Nord Stream 2 pipelines.

The damage to the pipelines is being investigated by Russia’s FSB security service as “international terrorism”, the Interfax news agency cited the general prosecutor’s office as saying.

Nato and the European Union warned of the need to protect critical infrastructure from what they called “sabotage” on Wednesday.

Read more about the gas leak in the Baltic Sea here:

Nord stream gas leaks prompt concerns for climate

Putin’s mobilisation sparking mass Russia 'brain drain' - MoD

06:25 , Arpan Rai

The British defence ministry has said that the number of Russian men escaping Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation order is likely more than the total invasion force deployed by Russia in February this year.

“In the seven days since President Putin announced the ‘partial mobilisation’ there has been a considerable exodus of Russians seeking to evade call-up,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

“Whilst exact numbers are unclear, it likely exceeds the size of the total invasion force Russia fielded in February 2022,” the ministry added.

The “better off and well educated” are “over-represented amongst those attempting to leave Russia,” the ministry said.

“When combined with those reservists who are being mobilised, the domestic economic impact of reduced availability of labour and the acceleration of ‘brain drain’ is likely to become increasingly significant,” the British MoD said today.

Residents in occupied territories say ‘nobody voted’ in referendum

06:50 , Arpan Rai

Locals in Russia-held areas in Ukraine have said that the voting carried out in the referendum to join Moscow did not see active participation and that “nobody” came out to cast their vote in the exercise dismissed as a “sham” by Kyiv and its allies.

Lyubomir Boyko, 43, speaking about a village in Kherson province controlled by Russia, said officials went from house to house but nobody came out.

“They can announce anything they want. Nobody voted in the referendum except a few people who switched sides. They went from house to house but nobody came out,” he said.

Videos from the voting exercise showed Russian-installed officials taking ballot boxes from house to house with armed men in tow.

Some residents who escaped to Ukraine-held areas said that people were being forced at gunpoint to mark ballots in the street.

Russia has claimed high voter turnout in all areas and an overwhelming vote in favour of annexation in the referendums.

18 Russian soldiers killed, military vehicles and ammunition destroyed - Ukraine

07:01 , Arpan Rai

A total of 18 Russian soldiers have been killed in the last 24 hours, Ukraine’s southern operational command said in a war update today.

It added that the Ukrainian troops have destroyed two tanks, three Orlan-10 drones and six armoured and military vehicles on Wednesday, reported The Kyiv Independent.

Russian bloggers ‘increasingly concerned’ about potential loss of Lyman, says ISW

07:28 , Rory Sullivan

Russian military leadership has likely not prepared contingency plans for the potential defeat of its troops in Lyman, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The US think tank said Russian milbloggers were “increasingly concerned” Moscow’s forces could lose the Donetsk city.

Finland watching territorial waters ‘very closely’ after Nord Stream explosions

07:49 , Rory Sullivan

Finland is watching its waters very closely after explosions damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines, prime minister Sanna Marin has said.

The development was “extremely worrying”, she added.

“Finnish authorities and the government is watching the situation very closely. We are monitoring the situation in the Finnish economic area and our territorial waters,” Ms Marin said.

Europe suspects Russia behind gas blasts as Moscow blames ‘international terrorism’

08:07 , Rory Sullivan

#icymi

Although it has not named Russia directly, the EU has called damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea “highly suspicious”.

With the bloc’s leaders warning that there could be more attacks on vulnerable energy infrastructure, Norway said it would increase its military presence at its installations.

The Kremlin has dismissed accusations of sabotage as “predictable, stupid and absurd”, blaming “international terrorism” instead.

Europe suspects Russia behind gas blasts as Moscow blames ‘international terrorism’

Six civilians killed in Donetsk province, says governor

08:30 , Rory Sullivan

Six civilians were killed and four others were injured in Russian attacks in Donetsk province on Wednesday, its Ukrainian governor has said.

Pavlo Kyrylenko said a total of 901 civilians have been killed in the province since the start of the war, excluding Mariupol and Volnovakha.

Tens of thousands of people are believed to have died during Russia’s weeks-long siege of the port of Mariupol earlier in the conflict.

More EU sanctions against Russia expected before summit, says official

08:50 , Rory Sullivan

New sanctions against Russia are likely to come before next week’s EU summit, an official from the bloc has said.

Speaking to Reuters, they said the meetings would likely focus on the “sham” referendums in Russian-held parts of Ukraine, which are expected to lead to Moscow’s annexation of the territories.

European leaders could also discuss possible energy price caps, the official added.

US gives more military aid to Ukraine

09:13 , Rory Sullivan

The US has pledged another $1.1bn to the Ukrainian military “to ensure the continued freedom and independence of the Ukrainian people”, the American ambassor to Kyiv has said.

Bridget Brink said the move from Washington means that the Biden administration has now given Ukraine $16.2 bn in military aid.

Fourth Nord Stream leak reported in Baltic Sea

09:35 , Rory Sullivan

Sweden has discovered a fourth gas leak at the damaged Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

The country’s coastguard confirmed the development to the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

“Two of these four are in Sweden’s exclusive economic zone,” coast guard spokesperson Jenny Larsson told the paper on Wednesday. The other two breaches are near Danish waters.

The sabotage was first reported on Monday, with the EU promising a “robust” defence of its energy infrastructure.

Nord Stream: Fourth leak found in Russian gas pipeline

US candidate beats Russian to head UN telecoms agency

10:24 , Rory Sullivan

An American has beaten a Russian candidate to become secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union.

The UN agency confirmed that Doreen Bogdan-Martin gained 139 of the 172 votes cast, defeating Russia’s Rashid Ismailov.

The result is seen as a sign of Russia’s increasing diplomatic isolation following its invasion of Ukraine.

“I’ve worked for this moment for more than three decades,” Bogdan-Martin said after her victory.

Nato warns of ‘united response’ to attacks on alliance’s infrastructure

10:48 , Rory Sullivan

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has warned that any attack on the alliance’s infrastructure would lead to “a united and determined response”.

Mr Stoltenberg said the gas leaks discovered this week in the Baltic Sea had been caused by “sabotage”.

“All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage,” he said in a statement.

“We, as allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” he added.

Germany dismisses Russian ‘sham’ referendums in Ukraine

11:08 , Rory Sullivan

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has dismissed the referendums in Russian-occupied Ukraine, saying they were conducted at “gunpoint”.

The Kremlin-orchestrated votes asked residents whether they wanted to become part of Russia.

Speaking on Thursday, Ms Baerbock said people had been taken “under threats and sometimes even (at) gunpoint” to the ballot box.

Russia to annex parts of Ukraine tomorrow, says Kremlin

11:18 , Rory Sullivan

President Vladimir Putin will officially annex parts of Ukraine on Friday, the Kremlin has said.

After a signing ceremony tomorrow, he will meet the Moscow-appointed leaders of the Russian-held regions, it added.

The move follows what the West has termed “sham” referendums in parts of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

Lithuania to boost security at LNG terminal after Baltic Sea leaks

11:40 , Rory Sullivan

Lithuania will boost security at its liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal following the recent “sabotage” against the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

President Gitanas Nauseda’s announcement on Thursday came after Norway promised to send more military personnel to guard its own facilities.

Putin to speak to Erdogan

12:00 , Rory Sullivan

Russian president Vladimir Putin will soon speak to his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan, Moscow has said.

The Kremlin’s announcement comes after months of Turkish diplomacy with Russia and Ukraine.

Ankara succeeded in brokering a deal earlier this summer to allow the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports from its Black Sea ports.

Western goods vehicles banned from Russia

12:20 , Rory Sullivan

Russia has banned Western goods-carrying vehicles from transiting across its territory.

A decree signed by president Vladimir Putin on Thursday affects trucks from countries which have similar restrictions against Russia.

Hungary ‘cannot support' any new EU energy sanctions against Russia

12:46 , Rory Sullivan

Hungary cannot support the European Union’s planned eighth round of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine if those contain energy sanctions, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

The EU executive proposed on Wednesday fresh sanctions against Russia, including tighter trade restrictions, more individual blacklistings and an oil price cap for third countries.

The proposed sanctions fall short of harder-hitting measures, including a ban on importing Russian diamonds, sought by Russia hawks Poland and the three Baltic countries.

But EU states need unanimity to impose sanctions and Orban has been a vocal critic, saying on Monday that the EU sanctions have “backfired”, driving up energy prices and dealing a blow to European economies.

“Hungary has done a lot already to maintain European unity but if there are energy sanctions in the package, then we cannot and will not support it,” Gergely Gulyas told a briefing.

“We are waiting for a final, full list of sanctions and then we can negotiate about it. Hungary cannot support energy sanctions.”

Hungary’s government is also in talks with the European Commission to secure billions of euros in EU funds blocked over rule-of-law concerns. Gulyas said he expected a deal would be signed as Budapest was ready to meet all its commitments made to the Commission.

Reuters

Russia says gas leaks likely caused by state

13:10 , Rory Sullivan

Some European officials have suggested that Russia was behind the explosions that damaged Baltic Sea gas pipelines earlier this week.

Moscow has said the attack was likely made at the “state level”.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “This looks like an act of terrorism, possibly on a state level.

“It is very difficult to imagine that such an act of a terrorism could have happen without the involvement of a state of some kind,” he added. “This is a very dangerous situation which requires an urgent investigation.”

Gas leak attack has changed conflict, says EU official

13:35 , Rory Sullivan

EU leaders will meet next week to discuss the “sabotage” committed this week against gas pipelines in the Baltic.

With gas spewing into the sea for a fourth consecutive day, an EU official said the threat posed by Russia had increased.

“The attack on strategic infrastructure means that the strategic infrastructure in the entire EU has to be protected,” they said.

“This changes fundamentally the nature of the conflict as we have seen it so far, just like the mobilisation...and the possible annexation,” the official said, referring to Vladimir Putin’s military draft and to his plans to annex parts of Ukraine.

Montenegro makes 38 ‘espionage’ arrests

14:02 , Rory Sullivan

Nato member Montenegro has arrested 38 people on suspicision of spying for Russia, reports suggest.

The country’s media said that six Russian diplomats, 30 Russian nationals and two citizens of Montenegro had been detained by security services.

Earlier in the day, prime minister Dritan Abazovic said an “international operation” with foreign partners was underway, but he did not elaborate.

Video: Kremlin announces annexation of Ukrainian territory on Friday

14:20 , Rory Sullivan

Ukraine vows ‘very harsh’ response to Russian annexation

14:40 , Rory Sullivan

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned of a “very harsh” response if Moscow annexes parts of Ukraine, as it has vowed to do on Friday.

The possible annexation comes after referendums - dismissed as “sham” votes by the West - were held in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

Reponding to the Kremlin’s announcement that the regions will become Russian from Friday, Mr Zelensky said: “They (the votes) are worthless and do not change reality. The territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored. And our reaction to recognition of the results by Russia will be very harsh.”

Belarus to welcome 20,000 new Russian troops, says Ukraine

15:00 , Rory Sullivan

Belarus is ready to accommodate 20,000 new Russian conscripts, Ukraine’s defence secretary has claimed.

The men will replenish Russian units already stationed in the country, which Moscow used as a launchpad to invade Ukraine in late February.

Russia to hold annexation concert

15:20 , Rory Sullivan

The Kremlin has confirmed that it will hold a big concert on Friday in Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate Russia’s annexation of four more parts of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov did not say whether the president will be in attendance, as he was at a similar event in 2014 to mark the annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula.

At tomorrow’s event, billboards will proclaim “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson - Russia!”

Zelensky calls emergency defence meeting

15:40 , Rory Sullivan

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has called an emergency security meeting, following Russia’s pledge to annex four parts of Ukraine tomorrow.

“President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called an urgent meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine for tomorrow. The agenda and other details will be announced later,” his spokesperson said.

Russia considering nuclear talks with US

16:00 , Rory Sullivan

Russia could meet with US negotiators to discuss a landmark nuclear arms control treaty, the Kremlin has said.

Physical inspections under the New START treaty have been suspended since 2020.

“The topic of resuming them is being considered,” the Russian foreign office spokesperson said. “The possibilities for holding a face-to-face session of the bilateral advisory commission are being studied.”

Putin’s approval rating drops after mobilisation

16:30 , Rory Sullivan

Putin’s approval rating has fallen since he ordered a “partial” mobilisation, a Russian polling agency has found.

The president has the support of 77 per cent of Russian citizens, down from 83 per cent, according to the Levada Centre.

Illegal annexation would threaten peace prospects – UN chief

17:42 , Jane Dalton

If Russia goes ahead with its plans to annex four Ukrainian regions, it would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardise the prospects for peace in the region, the United Nations Secretary-General has warned.

“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” Antonio Guterres said.

“Any decision by Russia to go forwards will further jeopardise the prospects for peace.

“It will prolong the dramatic impacts on the global economy, especially in developing countries, and hinder our ability to deliver life-saving aid across Ukraine and beyond.”

Nato warns it will hit back over attacks on pipelines

18:12 , Jane Dalton

Nato has warned it will retaliate for any attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member countries and joined other Western officials in citing sabotage as the probable cause of damage to two natural gas pipelines.

The Swedish coastguard has confirmed a fourth leak on the pipelines off southern Sweden, which is in the process of joining Nato.

Nato ambassadors said that “any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response”.

They refrained from saying who they thought was responsible, even though some allies such as Poland, and many experts, have said they believe Russia is responsible.

“All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage,” the envoys said.

Putin to hold signing ceremony and celebrations

19:00 , Jane Dalton

Vladimir Putin will hold a signing ceremony and stage celebrations to incorporate territories taken from Ukraine into Russia on Friday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said agreements will be signed “with all four territories that held referendums and made corresponding requests to the Russian side”. David Harding reports:

Putin to annex Ukraine territories as Kyiv warns of ‘very harsh’ response

More than half of Russians afraid, anxious or angry over mobilisation

19:30 , Jane Dalton

More than half of Russians felt fearful, anxious or angry after hearing that the Kremlin was drafting hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight in Ukraine, according to a poll released by the independent Levada Centre.

Nearly half - 47% - of respondents said they had felt anxiety, fear or dread following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement just over a week ago.

Another 13% said they had felt anger, while 23% said they had felt pride in Russia.

The poll was conducted among 1,631 Russians aged 18 or over in 50 regions.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said only 300,000 reservists with previous military experience would be called up, but there has been public irritation, even among officials and pro-Kremlin commentators, at the large number of unsuitable or ostensibly ineligible people being given call-up papers.

The Kremlin has acknowledged that some call-ups have been issued in error, and said last week that mistakes were being corrected by regional governors and the ministry of defence.

Russia claims UK, German and Indian observers attended polling

20:10 , Jane Dalton

Russia has claimed that representatives from Britain, Germany and India were among international observers who oversaw the highly disputed referendum in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Shweta Sharma reports:

Russia claims Indian ‘observer’ attended Ukraine referendum

Putin must be stopped, says Zelensky

20:53 , Jane Dalton

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said Russia could avoid the most damaging consequences of its war against Kyiv, but to do so President Putin had to be stopped.

In an evening address, Zelensky also said the Kremlin’s planned annexation of four Ukrainian regions would not produce the expected results. I

nstead, Russia itself would become inextricably linked to the lawless “catastrophe” that Zelensky said had unfolded in areas that pro-Moscow forces seized in 2014.

Former US major and wife charged in ‘plot to leak data to Russia'

21:20 , Jane Dalton

A former US Army major and his wife have been charged in an alleged plot to leak sensitive information of military patients and their spouses to the Russian government:

Ex-Army major and wife charged in alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

US will never recognise Russia’s territorial claims, vows Biden

21:45 , Jane Dalton

President Joe Biden has pledged the United States will never recognise Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s sovereign territory.

The US is preparing new sanctions to impose once Moscow annexes the new areas.

Mr Biden denounced referendums that pro-Russian forces conducted as an “absolute sham”, saying the results were “manufactured in Moscow”.

“The United States - I want to be very clear about this - United States will never, never, never recognise Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory,” Mr Biden said.

The sanctions are expected to target “individuals and entities inside and outside Russia that provide support to this action,” the White House said on Wednesday.

“Russia’s assault on Ukraine in pursuit of imperial ambitions is a flagrant, flagrant violation of the UN Charter, and the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Mr Biden.