Upper house

Russia issues new nuclear warning at end of disputed Ukraine referendum

  • Putin ally issues new nuclear warning
  • NATO will not go to war after a nuclear strike
  • End of votes for the annexation of Ukraine
  • Russian submarine gas pipelines mysteriously damaged

LONDON/ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine, September 27 (Reuters) – An ally of President Vladimir Putin issued a new nuclear warning to Ukraine and the West on Tuesday as Russia began publishing referendum results it claims a prelude to the annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

Moscow’s latest broadside came as European countries rushed to investigate major unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea that posed the risk of explosions and the sinking of any ships entering the region.

The Kremlin, which blamed technical problems on earlier cuts to Russian gas supplies to Europe, said it could not rule out sabotage, without saying who was to blame.

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Moscow’s confrontation with the West has driven up global inflation and deepened energy and food crises in many countries since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which led to harsh Western sanctions and lockdown measures. Russian reprisals.

Tuesday’s nuclear warning by Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, is one of many issued by Putin and his associates in recent weeks.

Analysts say they are designed to deter Ukraine and the West by hinting at a willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend newly annexed territory, where Russian forces have faced heavy counter-offensives Ukrainians in recent weeks.

Medvedev’s warning differed from previous ones in that he predicted for the first time that the NATO military alliance would not risk nuclear war and would not go directly to war against Ukraine even if Moscow hit Ukraine with nuclear weapons.

“I think NATO would not directly intervene in the conflict, even in this scenario,” Medvedev said in a message on Telegram.

“Overseas and European demagogues are not going to die in a nuclear apocalypse.”

“FALSE” REFERENDUMS

The first partial results of the votes cast in Russia on the integration into Russia of the four regions of Ukraine partially occupied by Russia showed overwhelming majorities in favor, Russian news agency RIA reported.

It was a long-awaited announcement after a five-day referendum that Kyiv and the West have denounced as a sham and say they won’t recognize it. Ukraine has urged the EU to impose further punitive sanctions in response to votes it says were conducted at gunpoint in many cases.

Putin told state TV the votes were meant to protect people from what he called Ukraine’s persecution of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, something Kyiv denies.

“Saving people in all territories where this referendum is being held is at the center of our concerns and at the center of the attention of our whole society and our country,” Putin said.

Earlier, he spoke with officials about mobilizing farmers to fight in Ukraine, the latest step in a campaign he announced last week to support what Moscow calls its “special military operation” after setbacks in the battlefield this month.

The mobilization campaign sent thousands of Russians rushing across Russian borders into neighboring countries.

Nearly 66,000 Russians entered the European Union, mainly via Finland and Estonia, between September 19 and 25, a 30% increase from the previous week, the border agency of the bloc, Frontex.

Russian government officials have repeatedly warned that they could use nuclear weapons if Kyiv forces, which control some of the areas claimed by Moscow, try to take what Russia will soon consider sovereign territory.

The United States said it privately explained to Moscow what it called “catastrophic consequences” for Russia if it resorted to nuclear weapons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he discussed with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday about additional military support from the Western military alliance.

Earlier, Zelenskiy’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Ukraine was preparing for the possibility of a Russian nuclear strike, but it was up to the nuclear-weapon states to deter it.

“…Where exactly should we evacuate people in case of a Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine?” he asked in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Blick. “This is why the use of nuclear weapons is a matter of global security.”

“NOTHING TO FEAR MORE”

In central Kyiv, music teacher Andrii Liubomyr said he was not scared by the possibility of a nuclear strike.

“So what? What do we have to fear after February 24? There is nothing more to fear,” he told Reuters, referring to the start of the Russian invasion.

Viktor Yermolenko, 58, also ignored Medvedev’s threat: “Our Ukrainian nation cannot be broken by a nuclear strike.” Podolyak said Ukrainians who helped Russia organize the referendums on annexation would be charged with treason and at least five years in prison.

“We have lists of names of people involved in one way or another,” he said, adding that Ukrainians forced to vote would not be punished. Ukrainian officials reported that ballot boxes were taken from door to door and residents were forced to vote in front of Russian troops.

None of the provinces are fully under Moscow’s control and fighting is ongoing across the frontline, with Ukrainian forces reporting more advances since routing Russian troops in a fifth province, Kharkiv , at the beginning of the month.

The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said the chamber could consider incorporating the four regions into Russia on October 4.

Fighting raged in various parts of Ukraine on Tuesday.

Zelenskiy said the eastern Donetsk region remained his country’s – and Russia’s – top strategic priority, with “particularly severe” fighting engulfing several towns.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional governor, said three civilians had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Ukrainian forces in the south continued to try to keep bridges and other river crossings out of service in order to disrupt Russian forces’ supply lines. The Air Force said it shot down three Iranian-made drones operated by Russia after an attack on the Mykolaiv region.

Reuters could not immediately verify reports from the battlefield.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrich

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