KIYV, Ukraine (AP) — WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is denouncing the referendums underpinning Russia’s planned annexation of four Ukrainian regions as a “sham” and vows that the United States will never recognize the land as Russian territory.
Speaking Thursday to Pacific island leaders in Washington, Biden said: “The so-called referenda was a sham, an absolute sham. The results were manufactured in Moscow.”
He called the hastily arranged election a “flagrant, flagrant violation of the U.N. charter.”
Biden commented a day after his administration said it has concluded that Moscow falsified results of the referendums and forced people to cast ballots under duress.
— Kremlin will annex 4 regions of Ukraine on Friday
— Hundreds of kids from east Ukraine stranded in Russian camps
— US: Focus new Russia sanctions on oil revenue, arms supplies
— Europe ramps up energy security after suspected sabotage
— Moscow tries to draft fleeing Russian men at the borders
— Finland to ban entry to Russian tourists starting midnight
— Ukrainian activist among winners of ‘Alternative Nobel’
— Agency: joining NATO makes Finland target for Russian ops
PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegro ordered six Russian diplomats to leave the country, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
In a short statement published on Twitter, the ministry said the diplomats were asked to leave over “breaches of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” It did not elaborate.
Montenegro was once considered a strong Russian ally, but in 2017 it joined NATO over strong opposition from Moscow. It has also joined Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has put Montenegro and most other European nations on its list of “enemy states” for acting against Kremlin’s interests.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. top diplomat says Washington will never recognize Russia’s planned annexation of Ukrainian territory or the legitimacy of the Moscow-orchestrated referendums that amount to a “further attempt at a land grab.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Thursday the referendums in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia don’t reflect the will of the people and are an illegitimate spectacle carried out by Russia’s “proxies” in violation of international law.
Blinken said the referendums on joining Russia are “an affront to the principles of international peace and security” and accused Moscow of compelling Ukrainian citizens who didn’t flee to “cast ballots at gunpoint, in fear of their safety and the safety of their loved ones.”
He reiterated President Joe Biden’s pledge that the U.S. will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and that it would continue to assist the country, along with its allies, “in its fight to defend its territory against Russian aggression.”
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “give negotiations another chance” and to take steps aimed at reducing tensions and leading to “more positive developments.
A statement from Erdogan’s office said Thursday that the Turkish leader renewed an offer to Putin during a telephone conversation for Turkey to act as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.
Erdogan also called for the extension of a UN and Turkish-negotiated deal that allows Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain through the Black Sea. The deal is scheduled to expire in November.
NATO-member Turkey has retaining its close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says Russia’s planned annexation of four Ukrainian regions will be a “dangerous escalation” that flouts the U.N. Charter and will have “no legal value.”
In unusually strong and blunt language, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Thursday that any annexation “stands against everything the international community is meant to stand for,” and “must not be accepted.”
The Kremlin announced that a ceremony will be held Friday to launch the process of annexing the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Guterres said “the so-called `referenda’” can’t be called “a genuine expression of the popular will” because they were conducted during armed conflict in areas under Russian occupation, and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework.
He reiterated an Oct. 24, 1970 General Assembly declaration which has been repeatedly cited by the International Court of Justice, that “no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal.” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres conveyed this message to Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia during a meeting on Wednesday.
Moscow-installed officials in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region say that around 30 people have been killed after the Ukrainian military shelled a refugee convoy.
Vitaly Ganchev, administrative head of the Kharkiv region’s occupied areas, told state-run Russia 24 TV channel Thursday that seven people were evacuated.
Ganchev said Ukrainian forces used small arms and possibly grenade launchers in the attack.
Speaking to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, Russian-backed official in Luhansk Rodion Miroshnik said emergency services were not yet able to collect the bodies because of continuing Ukrainian attacks. The claims by both Ganchev and Miroshnik could not be independently verified.
Russian authorities are opening more military enlistment offices near Russia’s borders to stop fighting-age men from leaving the country in order to avoid getting called up to fight in Ukraine.
Officials said Thursday that new draft office opened in the Saratov region, at the Ozinki checkpoint on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan. Another enlistment center was set to open at a crossing in the Astrakhan region, also on the border with Kazakhstan.
Earlier this week, makeshift draft offices were set up near the Verkhny Lars border crossing into Georgia in southern Russia and near the Torfyanka checkpoint on Russia’s border with Finland.
Over 194,000 Russian nationals have fled to neighboring Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland — most often by car, bicycle or on foot — since President Vladimir Putin last week announced a partial mobilization of reservists.
KYIV — The chief of Ukraine’s presidential office says four marines and two civilians have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchange with Russia.
Andriy Yermak said in an online statement Thursday that the four marines had taken part in the battle for Mariupol. The two civilians were arrested after data and photos of Russian military equipment were found on their mobile telephones.
Yermak didn’t specify how many people were handed over to Russia. Russian officials haven’t commented on the exchange yet.
COPENHAGEN — NATO says it would retaliate for any attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member countries as it suggested that damage to two gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea is the result of sabotage.
NATO ambassadors said in a statement Thursday that “Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.” They said that the damage to the pipelines between Russia and Germany “is of deep concern.”
The alliance also said that “all currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage” and that the leaks are causing risks to shipping and “substantial environmental damage.”
The Swedish coast guard on Thursday confirmed a fourth leak on the Nord Stream pipelines off southern Sweden.
KIYV — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the Nord Stream pipeline accident would have been impossible without the involvement of a state actor.
Peskov told reporters in a conference call Thursday that it “looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level.”
He said “it would be hard to imagine” from the extent of damage to the pipeline that it didn’t happen without state involvement and urged a quick investigation.
Swedish coast guard officials reported Thursday a fourth leak to the Nord Stream pipelines conveying natural gas from Russia to Germany off southern Sweden.
Peskov dismissed media reports about Russian warships spotted in the area as “stupid and biased,” adding that “many more aircraft and vessels belonging to NATO countries have been spotted in the area.” He wouldn’t say if it could be possible to repair the pipeline.
KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid his respects to the victims of the Babi Yar massacre on the 81st anniversary of one of the most infamous mass slaughters of World War II.
Nearly 34,000 Jews were killed within 48 hours in Babi Yar – a ravine in the Ukrainian capital – during the city’s occupation by Nazi forces in 1941.
Zelenskyy wrote on his social media page that similar crimes against humanity still occur today, “in particular, on our Ukrainian land.” He added that criminals responsible for such tragedies must be punished “so that dictators and tyrants are reluctant to repeat something similar in the future.”
KYIV — Ukraine’s atomic power agency says a suspected landmine explosion on the perimeter fence of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged electrical lines.
Energoatom said Thursday there have been six instances at the Russian-occupied plant, still run by Ukrainian technicians, where wild animals set off landmines that Russian forces have scattered around the plant.
Local officials had said earlier that the plant itself – Europe’s biggest – was safe and no radiation had leaked into the environment.
The plant has been the focus of fighting and concerns about its reactors getting hit in a firefight. Earlier this month, the plant shut down its last working reactor of its six after reconnecting the plant to the country’s power grid to make sure its nuclear material can remain cooled.
European leaders have denounced Moscow’s announcement that it will incorporate Ukraine’s occupied four regions following the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia, pledging that they will never recognize the move.
Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky whose country holds the rotating EU presidency rejected as “absolutely unacceptable” what he called the “one-sided annexation” that was the process of a “fully falsified process with no legitimacy.”
Speaking on Czech public television Thursday, Lipansky dismissed the referendums as “a theater play” and that the four regions remain Ukrainian territory.
According to a statement from his office Thursday, Italian Premier Mario Draghi has told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call that Italy will not recognize the illegal referendums.
Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen posted on Twitter that his country “will never recognize any annexation attempt.”
KYIV — Moscow has confirmed it will formally annex parts of Ukraine where occupied areas held Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that the Ukrainian government and the West have denounced as illegal and rigged.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday when four regions of Ukraine will be officially folded into Russia.
The official annexation was widely expected following the votes that wrapped up on Tuesday in the areas under Russian occupation in Ukraine and after Moscow claimed residents overwhelmingly supported for their areas to formally become part of Russia.
BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday dismissed the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine as a “sham.”
Baerbock told a news conference in the German capital that people are being taken “under threats and sometimes even (at) gunpoint” to drop their ballots in transparent boxes.
She denounced the vote as a “dictated peace” that’s contrary to free and fair elections and warned that no citizen is either free or safe in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied territories as long as “this Russian diktat” prevails there.
KYIV — Ukraine’s presidential office says that at least eight civilians have been killed and 16 others have been wounded as a result of Russian artillery, missile and rocket attacks over the past 24 hours.
The office said Thursday casualties include two adults and a child killed by a missile strike on the city of Dnipro Wednesday. The attack injured five – including a 12 year-old girl pulled from the rubble – and damaged 60 houses, a street market and power lines.
Russian shelling killed five civilians and wounded four in the eastern Donetsk region.
The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk say 11 people have been wounded – one seriously – after four rockets hit the city. Oleksandr Honcharenko posted on Facebook that Thursday’s early morning attack damaged high-rise buildings and private homes.
Ukrainian military officials say the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has again been struck by a Russian missile. Officials said Thursday the Kh-59 missile struck a grain depot in Kryvyi Rih on Wednesday night.
STOCKHOLM — A fourth leak to the Nord Stream pipelines conveying natural gas from Russia to Germany has been reported off southern Sweden.
Earlier, three leaks had been reported on the two underwater pipelines. Seismologists detected two explosions were detected before reports of the leaks which officials believe were “deliberate actions.”
Some experts have said Russia is likely to blame for any sabotage — it directly benefits from higher energy prices and economic anxiety across Europe.
Sweden’s coast guards told Swedish news agency TT on Thursday that the fourth leak was off Sweden. All the leaks are in international waters.
KYIV — The Ukrainian military says Russia is sending undertrained fighters to the battle front as it tries to reinforce its positions in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman.
The Ukrainian military’s general staff said Thursday that of seven Russian tanks sent to Lyman recently, Russian troops crashed two of them on the way there.
It also said troops manning the tanks did not undergo training on how to use the vehicle’s weapons.
The Ukrainian military did not elaborate on how it knew about the tank unit’s condition. But Ukraine’s intelligence services have played purportedly intercepted phone calls of Russian troops complaining about their conditions on the front line.
KYIV — Britain’s military says the number of Russian military-age men fleeing the country likely exceeds the number of forces Moscow used to initially invade Ukraine in February.
The British Defense Ministry made the estimate in its daily intelligence briefing Thursday amid a Russian push to mobilize more troops to replenish losses its forces have suffered in Ukraine.
The ministry said those who are financially better off and better educated are over-represented amongst those attempting to leave Russia.
It added that the economic impact from the call-up as a result of a loss of labor in combination with a ‘brain drain’ “is likely to become increasingly difficult.”
KYIV — A Washington-based think tank says Ukrainian soldiers continue to advance around a key northeastern city occupied by Russian forces and may soon encircle it entirely.
The Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said Thursday that Ukrainian forces have taken more villages around Lyman, a city some 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Lyman had been a key node in Russia’s front-line operations in the region before Ukrainian forces retook vast swathes of territory in the northeast earlier this month.
The institute said a possible collapse of the Lyman pocket would allow Ukrainian troops to “threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk” region.
The institute suggested additional Russian losses would further erode morale amid a call-up of hundreds of thousands of men — the country’s first since World War II.
— Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine