Russia claims victory in Ukraine poll amid pipeline ‘sabotage’ allegations

Four Ukrainian states have voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation, Russian official sources announced on Sept. 28 after five days of voting.

Most of the Western capitals have described polls as “fake” and say they don’t recognize the results.

According to Russian media, 99% of voters in the Donetsk region voted in favor of integration with Russia, 98% in Luhansk, 93% in Zaporizhia and 83% in Kherson.

Recently, Russian officials said the integration of the four regions into Russia could be formally ratified as early as September 30.

If this happens, Moscow will see the region as part of Russia and any attack on these regions by Ukrainian forces or others will be interpreted as an attack on Russian territory.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on the final day of the vote, “From a legal and international law point of view, the situation has changed fundamentally and is relevant to the purpose of protecting these territories.” It will have all the consequences,” he said.

On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that 300,000 experienced army reservists would be called up for military service.

Kyiv and its Western allies say the move by Moscow amounts to a de facto “annexation” of four regions by Russia.

“This farce in the occupied territories cannot be called an imitation of the referendum,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address after the results of the poll were released.

The US plans to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that condemns polls, urges member states not to allow changes to Ukraine’s territorial status, and calls for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from the country. It is said that

“If Russia’s fake referendum is accepted, it will open a Pandora’s box that we cannot close,” UN special envoy Linda Thomas Greenfield in Washington said on Sept. 27.

Russian forces and local allies now hold about 60% of Donetsk, which is the scene of heavy fighting, and most of Luhansk. Moscow already recognizes both territories, including the Russian-speaking Donbass region, as independent republics.

Russian forces now largely control most of the southern Zaporizhia region and neighboring Kherson.

These four regions make up about 15% of Ukraine’s total territory.

In 2014, the Black Sea region of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia in a similar referendum. The results of that poll have not been recognized by all but a handful of countries.

pipeline blockage?

On the final day of voting in Ukraine, there were reports of gas leaks along Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, the cause of which remains unknown.

Both pipelines run under the Baltic Sea and connect Russian gas fields to German and other European energy markets.

On September 26, Danish authorities reported a gas leak from Nord Stream 2. Soon after, Swedish authorities reported two similar leaks of his along Nordstream 1.

“Gas pipeline breaks are very rare,” said the Danish energy chief, adding that preparedness levels had been raised in response to the incident.

Following the warning, aircraft and ships were ordered to maintain a distance of at least 5 nautical miles from the vicinity of the leak, sending European gas prices up 12% on 28 September.

Both pipelines are deeply entwined in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which entered its eighth month last week.

On August 31, Russia cut off the flow of gas through Nord Stream 1, citing “technical problems” caused by Western-led sanctions. The move has led to higher energy prices across Europe, and Germany in particular, and mounting accusations that Russia has “weaponized” its energy exports.

Construction of Nordstream 2, which is intended to boost Russia’s gas supply to Europe, has not yet been completed. Germany canceled the project after Russia invaded Ukraine on her February 24th.

Meanwhile, Danish and Swedish seismologists claim to have recorded two powerful blasts on September 26, one of which measured 2.3 on the Richter scale, in the area where leaks were later reported. was.

The report prompted the German press to warn of “targeted attacks on European gas infrastructure and gas markets.”

On September 28, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that a “deliberate disruption” of Europe’s energy infrastructure would result in a “strong and cohesive response”.

The same day, after a meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels, Danish Defense Minister Morten Bozkov said: We expect them to continue rattling their sabers. ”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the claim that Russia was responsible for the leak “predictable” and “stupid”.

“Remember the statement made by the President of the United States in early February?” he asked. “Who promised to get rid of NodeStream 2?”

On February 7, President Joe Biden vowed to suspend NordStream 2 operations if Russia invaded Ukraine.

If Russia invades, Biden said at the time: I promise you, we can make it happen. ”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Adam Morrow