JOHN GAMBREL – Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin said Tuesday that there was no prospect of an end to the talks. war in Ukraine and gave his blessing to the efforts to quickly transfer the already captured regions under the full control of Russia. Such a move could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the conflict if Ukrainian forces try to retake these regions.
A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said that the inclusion of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine into Russia itself would make their redrawn borders “irreversible” and allow Moscow to use “any means” to protect them.
Pressure within Russia and from Moscow-backed leaders in Luhansk and Donetsk for regional votes that would pave the way for them to become fully Russian has intensified amid a wave of Ukrainian counteroffensives — backed by Western arms — that are retaking large swaths of previously Russian-occupied territory. .
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Moscow-backed leaders of the Russian-occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine and pro-Russian activists in the partially occupied Zaporozhye region on Tuesday joined earlier calls by separatist authorities in Luhansk and Donetsk for early referendums on joining Russia.
Such votes will almost certainly go in favor of Moscow. The sequence of appeals and their support by Medvedev led to the idea of strengthening the Kremlin’s determination to fight off further territorial conquests of Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that there are no prospects for a diplomatic settlement. Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council under Putin, said on his messaging app that the vote in the separatist regions was important to protect their residents and “restore historical justice” and would “completely change” Russia’s future trajectory.
“After they are held and new territories become part of Russia, the geopolitical transformation of the world will become irreversible,” said Medvedev, who also served as the president of Russia in 2008-2012.
“An attack on Russian territory is a crime that requires any means of self-defense,” he said, adding that Russia would enshrine the new territories in its constitution so that no future Russian leader could take them back.
“That’s why Kiev and the West are so afraid of these referendums,” Medvedev said. “That’s why they need to be kept.”
The recapture of large areas of territory previously occupied by Russia, especially in the north-east of the Kharkiv region, has strengthened Ukraine’s argument that its troops can inflict more severe defeats on Russia with additional arms deliveries.
More heavy weapons are on the way, and Slovenia this week promises 28 tanks and Germany promised to supply four additional self-propelled howitzers. More help is also expected from Great Britain, which is already one of the biggest military supporters of Ukraine after the United States. British Prime Minister Liz Truss is expected to promise that in 2023 her government will “match or exceed” the 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid given to Ukraine this year.
The speed of the Ukrainian counteroffensive also led to Russian troops abandoning armored vehicles and other weapons as they hurriedly retreated. Ukrainian forces return captured weapons back into battle. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said on Tuesday that abandoned Russian T-72 tanks are being used by Ukrainian forces seeking to advance into Russian-occupied Luhansk.
As a result of the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian authorities found hundreds of graves near the once occupied city of Izyum. Yevgeny Yenin, Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, said on national television that officials found many bodies “with signs of violent death.”
“These are broken ribs and smashed heads, men with their hands tied, their jaws broken and their genitalia cut off,” he said.
Ukrainian officials also said that Russian forces tortured people in the occupied territories, including shocking them with Soviet-era walkie-talkies. Russia has repeatedly denied abusing or killing prisoners, although Ukrainian authorities found mass graves around the town of Buch after the Russian offensive on the capital Kyiv was halted at the start of the war.
Meanwhile, the offensive of Ukrainians continues in the south of the country. Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said early Tuesday that its forces had sunk a Russian barge transporting troops and weapons across the Dnieper River near the Russian-occupied town of Nova Kakhovka. There were no other details about the sinking of the barge in the Russian-occupied Kherson region, which was the main target of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
— Moscow likely moved its Kila-class submarines from their station on the Crimean peninsula to southern Russia because of concerns they could be hit by long-range Ukrainian fire, the British military said Tuesday. In a daily intelligence briefing, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the submarines were “almost certainly” redeployed to the Krasnodar Krai on the Russian mainland instead of the naval base at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.
McDonald’s restaurants in Kyiv were scheduled to reopen Tuesday for the first time since the Russian invasion in February. The three restaurants planned to offer delivery only initially, marking a sort of step back to life for Ukrainians before the war, which enters its seventh month later this week.
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