- US warns Russia against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine
- Fourth day of voting in referendums on joining Russia
- Ballot boxes taken from door to door, says Ukraine
- Heavy fighting continues along the front line
- Russians protest military conscription
KYIV, Sept 26 (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Monday refused to deny that Russia might close its borders to prevent an exodus of military-age men after President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilization in a bid to resume the top in the war in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also confirmed that Russia was in “sporadic” contact with the United States on nuclear issues, a day after Washington warned of “catastrophic consequences” if Moscow used nuclear weapons to protect the Ukrainian regions that it seems to be about to annex.
Citizens of four regions of Ukraine voted for a fourth day on Monday in Moscow-organized referendums on joining Russia, a plan that Kyiv and the West have called a deception. They say the votes are rigged and they won’t recognize the results.
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Asked about the possibility of border closures, Peskov told reporters: “I don’t know anything about that. At the moment, no decision has been made on that.”
Numerous reports have documented how people without military service were given draft papers – contrary to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s promise that only those with special military skills or combat experience would – even prompting figures loyal to the Kremlin to publicly express their concern.
Peskov acknowledged that some orders were issued in error, saying errors were being corrected by regional governors and the Defense Ministry.
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 was arrested after opening fire on a military recruiting office in Russia’s Irkutsk region on Monday, the local governor said.
Nearly 17,000 Russians crossed the Finnish border over the weekend, Finnish authorities said, while Russian state media said the estimated wait to enter Georgia reached 48 hours at one point. Sunday, with more than 3,000 vehicles queuing.
A senior lawmaker has said Russian men of fighting age should not be allowed to travel abroad.
“Anyone of conscription age should be banned from traveling abroad in the current situation,” Sergei Tsekov, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, told RIA news agency.
By incorporating the four Ukrainian regions – Lugansk and Donetsk in the east and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south – Moscow will be able to present Kyiv’s efforts to take them over as attacks on Russia itself.
Announcing his mobilization campaign last week, Russia’s first since World War II, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend any of its territories.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that the United States would respond “decisively” to any Russian use of nuclear weapons, without giving further details. He said Washington had privately told Moscow “exactly what that would mean.”
Asked about Sullivan’s comments, Peskov said: “There are dialogue channels at the appropriate level, but they are very sporadic in nature. At least they allow for the exchange of some emergency messages about everyone’s positions. “
The conflict in Ukraine has sparked the most serious confrontation between Moscow and Washington since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the superpowers moved closer to nuclear war.
The exiled mayor of Russian-controlled Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region has accused Russia of forcibly conscripting Ukrainian men from occupied areas into its armed forces.
“Today the situation is critical: our residents are scared, our residents are panicking, they don’t know what will happen tomorrow and when they will actually take our people to enlist,” Mayor Ivan Fedorov said.
Fedorov also condemned the referendums – which are due to end on Tuesday – as “a fake and a farce”.
“Voting takes place in front of assault rifles, gunmen…People are caught in the street and forced to vote not just for themselves but for their whole family,” he said by videoconference from an undisclosed location.
The governor of Lugansk, another region Moscow is aiming to annex, 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, Serhiy Gaidai said.
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.
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.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with his security chiefs on Monday to plan ways to counter Russia’s use of ‘new types of weapons’ after Moscow stepped up attacks in the Odessa region using Iranian combat drones.
Russia has carried out at least five attacks on targets in the region using Shahed-136 unmanned drones in the past few days, Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Odessa regional administration, said during the meeting. a press briefing.
One of the attacks hit an undisclosed military target in the southern region in the early hours of Monday, he said.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Gareth Jones; Editing by Angus MacSwan
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