Ukraine rules out peace talks with Putin if annexation goes ahead

West rejects sham ‘referendums’ amid energy concerns after pipeline blasts

Kyiv has said peace talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin will be impossible if he annexes more occupied parts of Ukraine, and urged the West to ramp up weapons supplies to the Ukrainian military and economic sanctions on Moscow.

Ukraine said reservists called up by the Kremlin last week were already arriving on the front line without receiving any training, and countries bordering Russia said about 200,000 men of fighting age had fled their homeland in recent days to avoid conscription.

Moscow’s mobilisation of 300,000 more soldiers and staged annexation “referendums” in occupied areas of Ukraine have been accompanied by thinly veiled nuclear threats to Kyiv and the West, and coincided with mysterious explosions on major Baltic Sea gas pipelines that have stoked European energy concerns as winter nears.

Map showing the four regions in Ukraine that Russia says it will annex following referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia’s “repetition of the Crimean scenario” – when it occupied the Black Sea peninsula in 2014 after staging a sham vote – “and another attempt to annex Ukrainian territory will mean there is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia”.

“None of Russia’s criminal actions will change anything for Ukraine… We will act to protect our people in the Kherson region, the Zaporizhzhia region, in Donbas, in currently occupied areas of the Kharkiv region and in Crimea,” he added, listing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that are now partly or fully controlled by the Kremlin’s military.

“The only rational response to such audacity by the occupier is even more support for Ukraine. And I am thankful to our partners who confirm such support: defence, financial, sanctions,” Mr Zelenskiy said.

The European Commission proposed new sanctions on Russia on Wednesday in response to its sham referendums and annexation threat, and US officials said they were preparing a new $1.1 billion (€1.2 billion) package of military aid for Kyiv.

Moscow appointees in occupied parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that comprise Donbas appealed to the Kremlin to take formal control of the areas, after claiming that a huge majority of residents backed such a move in “voting” that Ukraine and the West dismissed as a farce staged at Russian gunpoint.

“Germany will never recognise the results of the sham referendums,” German chancellor Olaf Scholz told Mr Zelenskiy during a phone call on Wednesday.

“The chancellor stressed that Germany would not stop providing concrete political, financial and humanitarian support to Ukraine, as well as in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, including in terms of arms deliveries,” Mr Scholz’s office said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to reveal when and how Mr Putin would proceed with the annexation process.

He also dismissed as “predictably stupid” suggestions that Moscow could be to blame for explosions that caused major leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines under the Baltic Sea.

They were not pumping fuel to Europe when they were breached, but were filled with Russian gas that is now roiling the surface of the Baltic, as EU states and the Kremlin call for clarity over an incident that has sharpened fears of a winter energy war.

Kremlin-controlled gas firm Gazprom has also threatened to impose sanctions on Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz over a payment dispute, which could halt flows through one of only two remaining operational pipelines that bring Russian gas to Europe.

Ukraine’s military said it was retaking more territory in the east after driving Moscow’s forces out of the Kharkiv region, and noted the arrival in Russian ranks of mobilised men “who had no training” and criminals freed from Russian prisons to fight.

According to official figures, 53,000 Russian citizens have arrived in Georgia, 98,000 in Kazakhstan and 43,000 in Finland since Mr Putin announced “partial mobilisation” last week.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

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