Zelensky vows to protect Ukrainians as Russia prepares to annex occupied territory

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Genya Savilov, Pool Photo via AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 8, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to protect Ukrainians living in four regions that Russia is poised to annex after orchestrating referendums this week.

Moscow-installed administrations in the four regions, located in Ukraine’s south and east, claimed Tuesday night that residents voted to join Russia in the referendums, but the votes were denounced by Ukraine and the West, which view them as rigged contests.

“We will act to protect our people in the Kherson region, in the Zaporizhzhia region, in Donbas, in the currently occupied areas of the Kharkiv region and in Crimea,” Zelensky said in his nightly address to Ukrainians.

“This farce in the occupied territory cannot even be called an imitation of referenda,” he continued.

U.S. officials and others in the West have cast the referendums as a land grab after Ukrainians reclaimed thousands of square miles in a counteroffensive, pushing Russian forces back to the border in some areas and causing embarrassment for Russian leaders.

The referendums are similar to one Russia carried out in 2014 in Ukraine’s Crimea before annexing the peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin faced increasing criticism within his country amid the territorial losses from the counteroffensive, which only grew after Putin called up 300,000 reservists and threatened the West with nuclear weapons last week.

Zelensky acknowledged the referendums at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday, urging members to implement new sanctions and exclude Russia from all international organizations.

“A state that is implementing a policy of genocide right now, keeping the world one step away from a radiation disaster, and at the same time threatening nuclear strikes cannot remain a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power,” Zelensky told members in a virtual address, calling for legally binding guarantees of collective security.

The United Kingdom on Monday announced 92 sanctions against Russian officials and agencies in response to the referendums.

Zelensky also said on Tuesday evening that he spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who publicly condemned the referendums and described them as a “sham.”

“Russia’s implementation of the so-called Crimean scenario and another attempt to annex Ukrainian territory will mean that there is nothing to talk about with this President of Russia. This is clear and obvious,” Zelensky said.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on countries to reject results published by Russia.

“We are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia, along with our allies and partners in response to these actions that we’re seeing currently, if they move forward with annexation,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday during a briefing.

Tags Donbas Donetsk Kherson Luhansk russia Russia-Ukraine conflict Russia-Ukraine war ukraine Ukraine UN Security Council Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky Volodymyr Zelensky Volodymyr Zelensky Zaporizhzhia

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