Moscow vows to use everything in its arsenal to keep hold of Ukraine areas that it plans to annex

Five days of so-called voting overseen by Russian soldiers in occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine are due to end on Tuesday

Moscow has continued to stage “referendums” in areas of Ukraine that it plans to annex and vowed to use everything in its arsenal to keep hold of them as Kyiv told Russians to flee or surrender to its troops rather than fight in the Kremlin’s chaotic mobilisation.

Five days of so-called voting overseen by Russian soldiers in occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine are due to end on Tuesday, and state media in Moscow said Russia’s parliament could debate their formal annexation as soon as Thursday.

Senior Moscow officials have warned that any subsequent attempt by Ukraine to retake its legal and internationally-recognised territory would be seen by the Kremlin as an attack on Russia, which could lead to a nuclear response.

When asked about such a scenario, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The entire territory of the Russian Federation, which is confirmed and can be further confirmed in the Russian constitution, is certainly under the state’s full protection.”


Even as Ukraine and Western powers said the hastily arranged “referendums” would never be legal under international law, Mr Lavrov insisted that Russia “will certainly respect the results of these democratic processes”.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and former leader Dmitry Medvedev mentioned their country’s potential use of nuclear arms in recent days as the Kremlin announced the call-up of 300,000 reservists to boost its military following a defeat and chaotic retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv area of Ukraine.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow’s “irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons are absolutely unacceptable. Ukraine won’t give in. We call on all nuclear powers to speak out now and make it clear to Russia that such rhetorics put the world at risk and will not be tolerated.”

British prime minister Liz Truss said the West “should not be listening to (Mr Putin’s) sabre-rattling and his bogus threats. Instead what we need to do is continue to put sanctions on Russia and continue to support the Ukrainians”.

“He made a strategic mistake invading Ukraine,” she told CNN in an interview aired on Sunday. “I think he has been outsmarted by the Ukrainians. We’ve seen the Ukrainians continue to push back against the Russian offensive. And I think he didn’t anticipate the strength of reaction from the free world.”

After failing to achieve its expected swift victory in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, Russia announced last week that 300,000 reservists with previous combat experience and military specialisations would be called up to fight.

Protests against so-called partial mobilisation in Russian cities have led to brawls between demonstrators and police and to more than 2,000 arrests. Even some senior ruling party politicians have criticised the chaotic implementation of the draft, amid reports that many people who are officially ineligible to fight are receiving call-up papers.

“Such excesses are absolutely unacceptable. And I consider it absolutely right that they are triggering a sharp reaction in society,” said Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of Russia’s upper house of parliament. “Ensure the implementation of partial mobilisation is carried out in full and in absolute compliance with the outlined criteria. Without a single mistake,” she told regional governors.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke in Russian to urge Russians to defy the “criminal mobilisation” by officials who “are well aware they are sending their citizens to death”.

He told Russians not to accept conscription notices, flee their country, or “surrender to Ukrainian captivity (rather) than be killed by the strikes of our weapons – absolutely fair strikes as Ukraine defends itself in this war”. He promised fair treatment to all Russians who are taken prisoner.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe