UKRAINE UPDATE: 26 SEPTEMBER 2022
Russia set to annex Ukrainian regions; US warns Kremlin on nukes
The Kremlin may rush to complete the annexation of four occupied Ukrainian regions within days, ahead of an expected annual state of the nation address on Friday by President Vladimir Putin. The votes to join Russia have been condemned by the UN as illegal.
Seven months into the war, Russia is attempting to subsume some of its neighbour’s most productive farming and industrial areas. Putin ordered another 300,000 troops mobilised last week; the roll-out has reportedly been chaotic and has triggered sporadic protests. Fears rose that Putin will soon close the borders to draft-aged men.
Envoys from European countries travelled to Izyum on Friday to visit a mass burial site exhumed after Ukraine recaptured the region from Russian troops this month.
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On the ground
Moscow’s troops in the past day have continued rocket and aviation strikes against military and civilian targets in Ukraine, focusing on taking the entire Donetsk region and holding occupied territories. Russian forces are also shelling with tanks, mortars and barrel artillery, Ukraine’s General Staff said. Responsibility for Putin’s partial mobilisation “appears to be divided and complex, possibly contributing to confusion, disorganisation, and violations of [Defence Minister Sergei] Shoigu’s commitments regarding exemptions,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a report.
US has warned Kremlin against using nuclear arms
President Joe Biden’s administration has told the Kremlin that any use of atomic weapons in Ukraine would have “catastrophic consequences” for Russia, said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
President Vladimir Putin renewed his atomic threat last week after Ukrainian forces recaptured a swath of Russian-occupied territory. Those threats are “a matter that we have to take deadly seriously,” Sullivan told CBS. That’s been “communicated directly, privately at very high levels to the Kremlin”.
Russian ally Serbia says it won’t accept annexation votes
Serbia, which has condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but stopped short of endorsing sanctions, said it won’t accept the result of the referendums in eastern and southern Ukraine that are expected to lead to the regions being annexed by Russia.
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic told reporters in Belgrade that his government can’t accept the results, as the votes are contrary to international law and the United Nations Charter.
Fears grow about Russian border closures
Concerns are growing in Russia that President Vladimir Putin will shut the country’s borders to prevent draft-age men from leaving.
The Meduza news website and exiled tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s media group on Sunday cited people they didn’t identify, of saying that men of conscription age will be barred from leaving the country after staged referendums in occupied Ukrainian territory are completed this week. Similar reports of an imminent border closure circulated in the days after Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine in February.
Russian lawyer Pavel Chikov, who advises on conscription cases, said on his Telegram channel that the Federal Security Service, or FSB, had begun stopping men from leaving on the orders of military officials. He posted photos of notices handed out at border crossings with Kazakhstan.
Odesa hit by drones bought from Iran
Russian forces for a second day targeted Ukraine’s key southern Black Sea port city of Odesa with Shahed-136 kamikaze drones purchased from Iran.
Two of the drones struck buildings next to the city’s port on Saturday, killing two people. On Sunday morning, a further three UAVs hit a central administration building, with no casualties yet reported.
Russia has also deployed the newly arrived weapons on the front lines, leading Ukraine to withdraw accreditation from the Iranian ambassador to Kyiv. Ukraine has shipped millions of tons of grain from Odesa and nearby ports since early August.
G7 concern on worsening governance at Ukraine’s energy companies
Ambassadors from the Group of Seven countries expressed concerns about Ukrainian authorities’ interference in the management of the gas transmission system’s operator and state-run energy company Ukrenergo.
Maintaining corporate governance principles “will increase investor confidence, stop corruption, and speed Ukraine’s reconstruction,” they said on Twitter.
The statement followed attempts last week to dismiss Serhiy Makohon, CEO of the country’s gas transmission system operator.
Zelensky says Moscow’s troops can surrender safely
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directly addressed Russians in Saturday’s nightly video address, saying they were being sent “to their death” by Kremlin authorities.
Speaking in Russian, Zelensky said that any of Moscow’s troops who surrender “will be treated in a civilised manner in accordance with all conventions.”
“Russian commanders do not care about the lives of Russians — they just need to replenish the empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled or the Russian soldiers that were captured,” Zelensky said. “It is better not to take a conscription letter than to die in a foreign land as a war criminal.”
Ukraine says eight countries sent observers to fake referendums
Eight countries sent officials to observe “fake referendums” being held in four regions of Ukraine, the country’s ministry responsible for “temporarily occupied areas” said on its website.
Ukraine denounced Belarus, Syria, Egypt, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, South Africa and Togo for their participation.
Ukrainian foreign minister pushes back on nuclear rhetoric
Ukraine’s foreign minister called Kremlin statements on the “possible use” of atomic weapons “completely unacceptable”.
“We call on all nuclear powers to speak out now and make it clear to Russia that such rhetoric puts the world at risk and will not be tolerated,” Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
President Vladimir Putin has said he’s prepared to use “all means” to defend Russian territory, interpreted by many as a threat to resort to nuclear weapons.
Putin defers conscription for some students
Putin gave students at state universities a deferment from conscription, according to a decree on the Kremlin website. The order applies to full- and part-time students getting their degrees for the first time.
The General Staff’s mobilisation department said people with the rank of private and sergeant who are under 35 years old, junior officers up to 50 years old and senior officers up to age 55 are subject to conscription, RIA Novosti reported.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, said the lower house of parliament will react to reports of violations in the mobilisation, Tass reported.
Russia may reinforce national guard via mobilisation, UK says
Russia may use its new partial military mobilisation to shore up the Rosgvardia, or National Guard, the UK defence ministry said in an update. The guard units are currently involved in the conduct of referendums on four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, it said.
“With a requirement to quell growing domestic dissent in Russia, as well as operational taskings in Ukraine, Rosgvardia is highly likely under particular strain,” the UK said. “There is a realistic possibility that mobilisation will be used to reinforce” the guard’s units, the ministry said.
Mazda discusses exit from Russia
Japan’s Mazda motor corporation is considering a permanent exit from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine put a halt to the carmaker’s production in the country.
Mazda said its withdrawal was under discussion as it saw no path to restarting production in Russia, following a Yomiuri Shimbun report that said it had decided to pull out. The Hiroshima-based carmaker had manufactured cars for the Russian market in the eastern city of Vladivostok since 2012, according to Yomiuri.
On Friday, Toyota decided to cease vehicle production permanently at its lone car plant in Russia.
Russian lawmakers may hold annexation vote on 29 September
The Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, may vote on 29 September on the accord for occupied Ukrainian regions to join Russia, Ria Novosti reported, citing a source it didn’t identify.
President Vladimir Putin plans to address the Federal Assembly, a joint session of both houses of parliament, the next day, the news agency reported earlier on Saturday.
The president addresses the body annually on major domestic and foreign policy topics.
China warns against Ukraine war spillover
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on all sides to avoid widening the war in Ukraine and said the solution is to “address the legitimate security concerns of all parties”.
“We call on all parties concerned to keep the crisis from spilling over and to protect the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries,” Wang said in a General Assembly speech at the United Nations on Saturday.
Moscow plans one-off payments to draftees
Deputies from the ruling United Russia party and the Communist Party submitted the bill to be reviewed by the parliament on a one-off payment of 300,000 roubles ($5,184) to all Russians who will be drafted to fight in Ukraine, according to the parliament.
The drafted people will also be offered waivers of paying interest on mortgages and consumer loans for the duration of their service. Housing and communal services payments will also be cancelled during this period.
As many Russians are trying to flee from mobilisation abroad or at home, the country has offered salaries for draftees equal to those that contracted military staff receives, which is several times the Russian average. The average real salary in June was 66,500 roubles, according to the statistics service.
Eight grain vessels sail from Ukraine ports
Eight ships carrying a total of 131,300 tons of agricultural products to Africa, Asia and Europe were set to leave the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk on Saturday, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Facebook. Six ships sailed early in the morning and formed a caravan, with two more on the way.
Since the safe transit agreement brokered by Turkey and the UN was reached between Ukraine and Russia in late July, 221 ships have left Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea with 4.7 million tons of agricultural products, chiefly grains.
Russia shakes up army; Mariupol general promoted
Russia’s defence ministry has announced personnel changes among its generals. No explanation was given for the move, days after President Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reservists in an escalation of the now seven-month conflict.
Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev was appointed Deputy Minister of Defence, responsible for supply and logistics, the ministry said in its official Telegram channel. General Dmitry Bulgakov leaves the post for another, unspecified job, it said.
Mizintsev was sanctioned by the UK in March for what it called his “reprehensible tactics” in combat including “atrocities” against the Ukrainian people during the siege of the southern city of Mariupol — as well as shelling civilian centres in Aleppo, Syria, in 2015-16.
European envoys visit Izyum mass graves site
Ambassadors from more than a dozen European countries visited Izyum in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Friday and saw mass grave sites uncovered when Kyiv troops recaptured the area. Some 436 bodies have been exhumed, including those of children.
The visit also saw the site of a residential building destroyed by a Russian bomb, killing 53 people.
“The world must know the truth about the bloody crimes of the occupiers. That is why it is extremely important that today foreign diplomats were able to see with their own eyes what the Russian occupiers leave behind,” said Andrii Sybiha, deputy head of Ukraine’s Office of the President. DM