, 2022-09-28 13:16:21,
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia was poised Wednesday to formally annex parts of Ukraine where occupied areas held a Kremlin-orchestrated “referendum” on living under Moscow’s rule that the Ukrainian government and the West denounced as illegal and rigged.
Armed troops had gone door-to-door with election officials to collect ballots in five days of voting. The suspiciously high margins in favor were widely ridiculed and characterized as a bogus land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership following embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.
Moscow-installed administrations in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine claimed Tuesday night that 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.
“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,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said, adding that the balloting was “a propaganda show” and “null and worthless.”
The Foreign Ministry asked the European Union, NATO and the Group of Seven major industrial nations to “immediately and significantly” step up pressure on Russia with new sanctions and by significantly increasing their military aid to Kyiv.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the EU’s 27 member countries to agree on a new package of sanctions on Russian officials and trade over the “sham referendums.” She labeled the ballots “an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force.”
Pro-Russia officials in the four regions said they would ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to incorporate their provinces into Russia on the basis of announced vote results. Separatist leaders Leonid Pasechnik in Luhansk and Denis Pushilin in Donetsk said they were leaving for Moscow to settle the annexation formalities.
Western countries, however, dismissed the balloting as a meaningless pretense staged by Moscow in an attempt to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine launched on Feb. 24.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Washington would propose a Security Council resolution to condemn the voting. The resolution would urge member states not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and include a demand for Russia to withdraw its troops from its neighbor, she tweeted.
The Kremlin remained unmoved amid…
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