Russian state media is reporting that voting has begun in some of the regions of Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine where Putin announced referendums this week.
The Tass news agency says: “Voting began at 08:00 in the DPR and LPR, as well as in the Kherson region and in the liberated territories of the Zaporozhye region.”
The “referendums” have been decried as illegal and a “sham” by Ukraine and the west.
Here are a couple of images of the “voting” that is taking place in occupied Luhansk today. The pictures show members of the armed forces of the chiefly unrecognised self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic casting their votes at a military unit in Luhansk.
Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi appears to have made a sympathetic interjection on the war on behalf of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Reuters quotes him saying overnight that “Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to invent this ‘special operation’,” Berlusconi said, using the Russian wording for the war.
Moscow’s plan was originally to conquer Kyiv “in a week”, replace Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy with “a government of decent people” and get out “in another week”, he added.
“I haven’t even understood why Russian troops spread around Ukraine while in my mind they should have only stuck around Kyiv,” Berlusconi insisted.
In a message on Telegram, Serhai Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, has said all those involved in running today’s “referendums” in occupied areas of Ukraine will be punished.
He described them as “elections without elections”, and referring to the suggestion that officials are going house-by-house to enable people to vote from home, Haidai said “they fill out some pieces of paper in kitchens, in apartments and yards. It looks extremely strange. It does not smell like privacy.”
He also suggested that part of the operation was also to establish people who might be available for conscription, saying “apartment-by-apartment/yard patrols – this is purely for the purpose of checking apartments to identify men. the occupiers are just looking for ‘cannon fodder’.”
Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a former permanent representative of the UK to the UN has been interviewed on Sky News television in the UK.
He said Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov gave an “Alice in Wonderland” kind of address to the UN about Russia’s position. He told viewers:
I think we’re entering a very dangerous period now. You’ve got the mobilisation of at least 300,000 servicemen, you’ve got the sham referenda in four occupied territories now in eastern Ukraine, and you got the increasingly violent rhetoric, made explicit by Dmitry Medvedev, the number two if you like in Russia, yesterday, saying that Russia would be prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its territory.
I think it has now become clear what Putin’s plan is. He will annex these lands on the back of the sham referenda over the next few days, claim that they are now in Russian territory, and that therefore any attack on that territory is an attack on Russia itself.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, has tweeted to reiterate Ukraine’s position on the “referendums” that have started today under Russian control in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. He has tweeted:
Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only – 1. Propaganda show for z-conscription. 2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.
Oleh Synyehubov, governor of Kharkiv, has issued an update on the overnight situation in his region on Telegram.
In his message he says “the enemy continued to terrorise the civilian population of Kharkiv oblast, shelling settlements adjacent to the contact line and the border with the Russian Federation. There are victims, including children.”
He reports that three people were injured in Kupyansk, including “two children – a boy and a girl, seven years old. Doctors assess their condition as moderate”. Synyehubov said that a 51-year-old man was killed by shelling in Kharkiv district.
He also reported two people injured by mines, repeating a warning to “remember the high mine danger and to be very careful. Do not touch suspicious objects and do not move around places that could potentially be mined.”
The casualty claims have not been independently verified.
Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas told her nation overnight that power blackouts are possible if Russia kicks the Baltic states from the joint power grid.
Reuters reports she said “We must also be prepared for Russia might disconnect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from their electricity grid. It would be wise to be prepared for possible power outages – that includes public authorities, companies, and every individual.”
She called on Russian citizens living in Estonia to ignore any summons to fight in Ukraine: “do not go, because there is no turning back”.
That “one million” figure that keeps recurring in some reports about a potential ceiling for the number of people mobilised by Russia comes from news reports yesterday in the independent Novaya Gazeta Europe that the seventh paragraph of the mobilisation decree, which is the only bit of the document that has not been made public, contains that figure in secret.
This has been denied as “a lie” by the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, and defence minister Sergei Shoigu gave the figure for mobilisation as 300,000, but the rumours persist.
The RIA Novosti news agency reported yesterday:
The seventh point is hidden in the document, which attracted the attention of journalists. As Peskov explained, this paragraph is for official use, so he cannot disclose its content. The spokesperson clarified that it was about the number of conscripts.
As Swedish journalist Carl Fridh Kleberg notes, the easiest way for the Russian government to quash the rumours would be to end the public redaction of that part of the decree.
The Sky News correspondent Alex Rossi is in Russia, and he has just offered this analysis of the situation from Moscow where he is based. He told viewers in the UK:
Certainly on the ground in terms of ordinary people here what’s rattling people a great deal is this partial mobilisation. According to the defence ministry that could see something like 300,000 people drafted into the meat grinder in Ukraine.
But I think people are extremely worried. If you talk to NGOs, human rights organisations, they say that they have been contacted by large numbers of people who are extremely concerned that their rights are going to be violated and they will be drafted.
Now the defence ministry says that it is only people who’ve had previous active military experience, but anecdotally, we’re seeing that that isn’t the case either. And some people say that as many as a million people could be affected by this.
Now again, anecdotally, we are seeing larger numbers of people trying to get out of the country. There have been reports of large queues at the borders of neighbouring countries like Finland’s young man of conscripts age trying to get out. Also we are seeing that the price of airline tickets out of Russia to countries that you don’t need a visa to, they are also increasing in price dramatically as well.
So it is hard to say at this point what effect this will have on Russian society, but certainly, all the signs are it could be fairly corrosive. It is something that Vladimir Putin had so far resisted doing, calling people up into what is effectively a war, but what he is still calling a “special military operation”.
Mykhailo Fedorov, the digital minister in Ukraine, has responded to Russia’s partial mobilisation with a tongue-in-cheek fundraising appeal to make sure that every new Russian soldier has their own Ukrainian drone to deal with. He tweeted:
Ukrainian soldiers are not concerned about Putin’s mobilisation. They are getting their job done. Still for Army of Drones it’s a new challenge: to ensure enough of UAVs for everyone ‘mobilised as a gesture of goodwill’.
Here are some of the latest images sent to us over the newswires from Ukraine.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) that occupies parts of eastern Ukraine has issued overnight casualty figures. It claims that “eight people received injuries of varying severity”, 15 houses were damaged and “seven people died (including two teenagers born in 2008)“ after Ukrainian forces fired into territory which the DPR claims to control.
The DPR is recognised as a legitimate authority by only three UN member states: Russia, Syria and North Korea. The claims have not been independently verified.