The Kremlin said Russia will hold a ceremony on Friday to officially incorporate four areas of Ukraine into Russia, a process Ukraine and its allies have dismissed as illegal while promising retaliation in the form of new sanctions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that the ceremony will include Russian President Vladimir Putin along with the Russian-appointed heads of the four regions where Russia held referendums that concluded earlier this week.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted on Thursday that he assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Germany will never recognize the “so-called results”.
“The fake referendums that Putin conducted in the illegally occupied territories of Ukraine are worthless,” Scholz said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the United States expected Russia “to use these fake referendums as a false pretext to try to annex Ukrainian territory in flagrant violation of international law and the UN Charter.”
Jean-Pierre said that regardless of what Russia claims, the areas remain Ukrainian territory.
“In response, we will work with our allies and partners to impose additional economic costs on Russia and the individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia who provide support for this action,” she said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that the EU plans to respond with “comprehensive new import bans on Russian products” and to expand its export ban “to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies.”
“This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of another 7 billion euros in revenue,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. The EU’s 27 member states would have to approve the sanctions for them to take effect, and the bloc has had difficulty agreeing on some previous sanctions.
“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.
The Ukrainian territory includes the regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, which represent about 15% of the country.
NATO said on Thursday that all available information indicates that several leaks in underwater pipelines transporting gas from Russia to Europe are the result of “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”
A NATO statement said the leaks are a matter of deep concern and that the alliance supports investigations into their origins.
The Nord Stream pipeline leaks appear to be the result of deliberate action
“We, as allies, are committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors,” NATO said. “Any deliberate attack on Allied critical infrastructure would be met with a united and decisive response.”
Sweden’s coast guard said on Thursday that a fourth leak had been discovered, with two in total near Sweden and the other two near Denmark.
The leaks are in international waters.
The pipelines are currently decommissioned, but still contained gas that flowed into the Baltic Sea.
Some information for this story came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.