US warns of ‘catastrophic consequences’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine
- Fourth day of voting in referendums on joining Russia
- Ballot boxes taken from door to door, says Ukraine
- Moscow warned not to cross the nuclear line after Russian threats
- Heavy fighting continues along the front line
- Russians protest military conscription
KYIV, September 26 (Reuters) – The United States has warned Moscow of “catastrophic consequences” if it uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine after Russia promised to protect Ukrainian regions that Moscow is expected to annex following widely held referendums. criticized.
Citizens of four regions of Ukraine voted for a fourth day on Monday in Russian-organized referendums that Kyiv and the West have called a deception. They say the results are predetermined and they will not recognize the results.
But by incorporating the four regions – Luhansk and Donetsk in the east and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south – Moscow could portray Ukraine’s efforts to retake them as attacks on Russia itself, a warning to Kyiv and its Western allies.
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US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the United States would react to any Russian use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
“If Russia crosses that line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia,” Sullivan told NBC television on Sunday. “The United States will respond decisively.”
Sullivan did not say how Washington would react, but said he had told Moscow privately “in more detail exactly what that would mean.”
His comments followed the thinly veiled nuclear threat from President Vladimir Putin, who said Russia would use any weapon to defend its territory.
Asked this weekend whether Moscow would consider using nuclear weapons to defend annexed regions, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian territory, including that “still enshrined” in the Russian constitution in the future, was under “full protection of the state”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he didn’t believe Putin was bluffing when the Kremlin leader said Moscow would be prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
DOOR TO DOOR VOTING
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian-backed officials were carrying ballot boxes door to door, accompanied by security officials.
Residents’ names were removed if they voted incorrectly or refused to vote, he said.
“Representatives of the occupying forces go from apartment to apartment with ballot boxes. It’s a secret ballot, isn’t it?” Gaidai said in an interview posted online.
The four regions represent approximately 15% of Ukraine. Russian forces do not control all the territory of these regions, where fighting is still raging. They would be added to Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014 after a similar referendum there.
The vote ends on Tuesday and the Russian parliament could then move quickly to formalize the annexations.
Ukraine, bolstered by sophisticated Western weapons, has recaptured swathes of territory over the past month, prompting Putin last week to order Russia’s first military mobilization since World War II to conscript 300,000 troops additional.
The decision sparked protests across Russia and scared away many men of military age. Nearly 17,000 Russians crossed the Finnish border over the weekend, Finnish authorities said on Monday.
More than 2,000 people have been arrested across Russia for protesting the project, independent monitoring group OVD-Info said. With criticism of the conflict banned, the protests were among the first signs of discontent since the war began.
A 25-year-old gunman opened fire on Monday at a recruiting office in Siberia’s Irkutsk region, the local governor said.
In the Muslim-majority southern region of Dagestan, police clashed with protesters, leading to the detention of at least 100 people.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak mocked Russia’s conscription campaign on Monday in a tweet, listing among its features “mile-long queues to leave” and thousands of complaints “before coffins were are starting to come back.”
In a video clip on Sunday, Zelenskiy addressed Russian protesters directly: “Keep fighting so that your children are not sent to their deaths – anyone who can be conscripted into this Russian criminal mobilization.”
“Because if you come and take our children’s lives…we won’t let you get out alive.”
Separately, Zelenskiy said Ukraine had discovered two other mass burial sites containing the bodies of hundreds of people in the northeastern town of Izium, part of territory recaptured from Russian forces this this month.
The seven-month war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, destroyed towns and villages, fueled global inflation and sparked the worst confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union came closest to nuclear. conflict.
Ukrainian officials said on Monday that renewed heavy fighting had seen more than 40 towns hit by Russian shelling, mostly in southern and southeastern Ukraine.
United Nations atomic watchdog Rafael Grossi said on Monday he was ready to hold talks in Ukraine and Russia this week on setting up a protection zone at Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. in Ukraine. He says such a zone is urgently needed to prevent an atomic disaster.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Michael Perry and Gareth Jones; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Angus MacSwan
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