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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Putin to sign annexation treaty, US to raise pressure on Moscow

In a grand ceremony at the Kremlin, he is expected to sign so-called “accession treaties” for parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

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The event will take place in the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace at3pm. local time (8am Eastern time) in Moscow.

Putin will also meet the four Kremlin-backed leaders from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia who travelled to Moscow this week. A Russian-installed official from Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, shared a smiling group photo of their arrival and called it “a historic decision: to join Russia and a :happy ending”.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has slammed the staged referendums that set the stage for illegal annexations of about 15% of his country.

The US and its allies have condemned the staged votes as a “sham” and warned they would increase diplomatic, economic and military pressure in response.

“The United States will never, never, never recognise Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory,” US President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

Putin has warned that once Russia absorbs occupied Ukrainian territories, it would use all means to defend them, in comments seen as a veiled nuclear threat.

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The Ukrainian government has denounced Russia’s staged referendums in four partially occupied regions as “a propaganda show”, vowing to track down and punish the organisers, while the European Commission proposed a raft of new sanctions to inflict its own punishment on the Kremlin and its proxies.

On the battlefield, Russian forces could be nearly encircled by the Ukrainian military in the key eastern city Lyman, a supply hub on the western edge of Ukraine’s Donbas region, according to pro-Russian military bloggers.

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After Ukraine’s sweeping counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region this month, Kyiv’s forces moved south, pushing to reclaim Lyman for the past two weeks. A victory there would mark Ukraine’s most significant success in the Donbas region since Russia concentrated the bulk of its forces there in the spring. Also key for the Ukrainians would be maintaining battlefield momentum at a time when Moscow is sending more forces – Putin announced the mobilisation of up to 300 000 men – to the front lines.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, assessed that “Ukrainian troops have likely nearly completed the encirclement of the Russian grouping in Lyman and cut critical ground lines of communication” in the area.

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“It is highly unlikely that any deployment of additional, newly mobilised, forces to Lyman will afford the existing Russian grouping significant defensive capabilities and prevent Ukrainian troops from collapsing the Lyman pocket,” the analysts said.

Putin is facing criticism at home for the mobilisation and for losing ground in the north. Oleg Tsarov, a Ukrainian collaborator with Russia, noted on Twitter that while Moscow was set to celebrate the annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – on Friday, the situation in Lyman was “a bad backdrop”. It would reinforce that Russia was moving to annex the territories despite a tenuous military hold on them. Russian forces do not fully control any of the regions.

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At least 23 people were killed early Friday after a suspected Russian missile struck a convoy of Ukrainians waiting to cross into Russian-occupied territory, the head of Zaporizhzhia’s regional administration said.

“Washington Post” reporters had interviewed civilians on Thursday, as they registered to join the queue near the final checkpoint under Ukrainian control. Most said they were delivering humanitarian supplies or crossing the line to collect relatives who had been unable to leave on their own.

They were due to depart at 6am, and the strike was reported at 7.49am local time by the province’s governor, Oleksandr Starukh. He said 23 people were killed and 28 injured. Unverified video footage, which appeared to have been taken in the same location that “Post” reporters visited on Thursday, showed several bodies on the ground as the person filming cried quietly off-camera. There was blood on the ground.

Ukraine holds roughly a quarter of the Zaporizhzhia region, including the capital city of the same name.

Morale might be waning among newly mobilised Russian troops, according to Britain’s defence ministry. This could be partly due to a lack of medical aid supplies and equipment.

“Some newly mobilised Russian reservists have been ordered to source their own combat first aid supplies, with the advice that female sanitary products are a cost-effective solution. Medical training and first-aid awareness is likely poor,” it said in a daily intelligence update.

“Medical provision for Russian combat troops in Ukraine is probably growing worse,” it added. In turn, “Russian troops’ lack of confidence in sufficient medical provision is almost certainly contributing to a declining state of morale and a lack of willingness to undertake offensive operations in many units in Ukraine”.

Tens of thousands of Russians have fled after Putin announced the “partial” military mobilisation. One told “The Post” he flew through two countries in four days to escape, adding: “The main task is to save your life.”

The Washington Post

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