Russia's proxies in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions announced that referendums on joining Russia had begun that Ukrainian and Western officials have denounced as shams.
For four days, "voting" will be held at people's homes "for security reasons," Russian state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti wrote. On the last day of the "referendums," on September 27, locals will be asked to go to "polling stations."
In Zaporizhzhya and Kherson oblasts the question is: "Do you support secession from Ukraine, formation of the oblast as an independent state and incorporation into Russia?" and in the already self-declared independent republics of DNR and LNR: "Are you for incorporation into Russia as a subject of the Federation?”
Concerns grow that by claiming the areas as Russian, Moscow will portray attempts to retake them as an attack on Russia itself. The votes are thus seen as linked to the mobilization Vladimir Putin announced this week to escalate the war.
In the Luhansk region, citizens have been forbidden from leaving the city. Head of the Luhansk OVA, Serhiy Gaidai, wrote on Telegram that "Residents of the occupied Luhansk region are forbidden to leave the cities: If you work, they will force you to vote at work; if you stay at home, the military will come."
According to Gaidai, the Russian media were preparing propaganda stories about a kind of "active participation of local residents in voting." In particular, in Bilovodsk, a business owner announced to all employees that attendance was mandatory. Those who will not take part in the voting will be automatically dismissed from their jobs, and the lists of those who will not appear will be handed over to Russian authorities.
State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin also addressed the residents of Donbas on his Telegram channel. “Our dear compatriots, make your choice freely. Don't be afraid of anything. Make a decision to become part of the Russian Federation — we will support you, ” he wrote.
Berlusconi Defends Putin With Italy Set To Vote
Silvio Berlusconi attends at the rally closing the election campaign of the center right in Piazza del Popolo
Ahead of Italy’s general election on Sunday, some of the country’s top politicians — including those expected to be part of the winning coalition — have made declarations in favor of Russia.
In the prime time TV show Porta a Porta on Thursday, the final official day for campaigning, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, likely to become a government minister after the elections, justified his long-time friend at the Kremlin Vladimir Putin by saying that “ he fell into a very difficult and dramatic situation.”
Echoing Putin’s rationale for his invasion, the 85-year-old Italian billionaire politician said that Russian minorities in Ukraine asked Putin to help them because the Ukraine government was attacking them. “Putin was pushed by the Russian population, by his party and his government ministers to come up with this special operation,” Berlusconi said, using Putin’s euphemism for the war. “Russian troops had to enter Kyiv and within a week to substitute Zelensky’s government with a government of decent people.”
Berlusconi later said his statements were taken out of context and that he believes the “aggression of Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
The exchange came after Berlusconi’s far-right ally and former interior minister Matteo Salvini said that Europe should rethink sanctions against Russia because they are harming the Italian population.
Another former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, now leader of the 5Star Movement, which has opposed the sending of more arms to Ukraine, also spoke out in favor of Russia. “It is obvious that Russia is moving in a logic that needs to be grasped, not justified, we are talking about the security of a neighboring territory, we are talking about Russian minorities,” Conte was quoted as saying in daily La Stampa.
Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right party Brothers of Italy is the frontrunner in Sunday’s elections in a coalition with Berlusconi’s and Salvini’s parties, has instead backed sanctions against Russia in what seemed a deep crack within the coalition. Observers around the world will be watching the results to see if the EU could potentially lose a key ally in the backing of Ukraine, especially as the economic and energy effects take their toll across the West.
One Million Recruits? Novaya Gazeta Reveals “Secret” Number In Mobilization Decree
Mobilized reservists arrive at a republican recruitment centre.
A secret paragraph of the decree on mobilization allows the Ministry of Defense to call up one million people instead of the 300,000 originally stated by the Russian government, a source in the presidential administration told Novaya Gazeta Europe.
The seventh paragraph of the decree isdesignated "for official use." Later, at a press conference, the President's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the classified item referred to the number of reservists who could be called up for military service.
Novaya Gazeta’s source inside the Russian government said “The figure was corrected several times, and in the end, they settled on a million”.
Zelensky Tells Russians To “Protest, Fight Back, Run Away Or Surrender”
Reacting to Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a national mobilization, President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russians to "protest, fight back, run away or surrender to Ukraine." Speaking in his daily address, he added: "You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders, and torture of Ukrainians because you remain silent. It's time for you to choose, for men to choose to die or to live."
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk previously said that Russians who don't want to fight should surrender. "If you don't want to return to Russia, then, according to the Geneva Conventions and Ukrainian law, no one will transfer you back to Russia," she said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian journalist Anna Akage reflects for Worldcrunch on Vladimir Putin’s failure to avoid the nationwide mobilization of new recruits and how this could put his own destiny at stake.
Germany To Welcome Russians As Political Refugees, Kazakhstan Bows To Kremlin
Passengers queue at check-in desks at Vnukovo International Airport
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine that Russians who oppose the regime and flee the country could be accepted as those escaping "political persecution."
"Anyone who courageously opposes the regime of President Vladimir Putin and therefore puts themselves in great danger can apply for asylum in Germany […] As a rule, deserters threatened by severe repression receive international protection," Faeser said, adding that granting asylum is a case-by-case decision.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan's parliament speaker Maulen Ashimbaev has said that the country would not deliver permanent residence permits to Russians without the Kremlin's agreement. After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his plan of "partial mobilization", many Russians began leaving for Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, where they can enter without visas.
El Periódico- Spain
An Entire Family Exterminated: Die Welt Shows Horror In Izyum
Mass graves in Izyum
More details are emerging of the mass burial site Ukrainian Armed Forces discovered near the liberated town of Izyum, in the Kharkiv region.
Reporting for German daily Die Welt, Anatoly Shara writes that he needed to wear a breathing mask with a menthol ointment to deal with the smell of decomposing bodies. Regional authorities have said that more than 440 bodies have been buried, with widespread signs of torture that may make the crimes even worse than Bucha, the city near Kyiv that was the site of different massacre last spring.
Shara reports how a team of investigators dug out an entire family. A woman, sobbing, explains: “It's just terrible, it's just terrible. Over there is a whole family: grandfather, grandmother, father, mother and two children. The children's bodies were piled on top of each other and wrapped in some rags."
Independence Commission Confirms War Crimes Committed In Ukraine
War Crimes Investigation
War crimes have been committed in Ukraine following investigations conducted in four regions of the country, said the chair of an independence Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine on Friday.
"Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," Erik Møse told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
The commission found a large number of executions, as well as victims of sexual violence and torture Møse said. Even though he did explicitly say who had committed the crimes, the commission’s investigations were focused on areas in Ukraine previously occupied by Russian forces like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
Russia continues to deny deliberately attacking civilians during the war in Ukraine and has previously said that the accusations of human rights abuses are a smear campaign.
Russian Banks Losses Estimated To $25 Billion, Regulator Not Fazed
Raiffeisen Bank logo
Russia's banks have lost an estimated 1.5 trillion rubles ($25.5 billion) due to the fallout in the war in Ukraine, according to a central bank official.
Maxim Lyubomudrov, who heads the regulator's department that supervises Russia’s largest banks, said this level of losses was “acceptable” and that the government had put in place measures to support Russia’s lenders through the economic crisis.
Finland Seizes Yandex Assets, Other Russian Oligarchs Targeted
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh in 2017
Finnish authorities have seized the holdings of Russia's largest technology company Yandex after the European Union added the company's founder and CEO Arkady Volozh to its sanctions list, Finnish media Helsingin Sanomat reports.
Meanwhile, Russian oligarchs Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had extensive business interests in Finland, had their assets seized by the state as well.