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Kremlin to Annex 4 Ukraine Regions Fri.09/29 06:09

   Russia confirmed on Thursday it will formally annex parts of Ukraine where 
occupied areas held Kremlin-orchestrated "referendums" on living under Moscow's 
rule that the Ukrainian government and the West denounced as illegal and rigged.

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia confirmed on Thursday it will formally annex 
parts of Ukraine where occupied areas held Kremlin-orchestrated "referendums" 
on living under Moscow's rule that the Ukrainian government and the West 
denounced as illegal and rigged.

   Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a ceremony on Friday in the 
Kremlin when four regions of Ukraine will be officially folded into Russia, 
spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

   Peskov said the pro-Moscow administrators of the regions will sign treaties 
to join Russia during the ceremony at the Kremlin's St. George's Hall.

   The official annexation was widely expected following the votes that wrapped 
up on Tuesday in the areas under Russian occupation in Ukraine and after Moscow 
claimed residents overwhelmingly supported for their areas to formally become 
part of Russia.

   The United States and its Western allies have sharply condemned the votes as 
"sham" and vowed never to recognize their results. German Foreign Minister 
Annalena Baerbock on Thursday joined other Western officials in denouncing the 

   "Under threats and sometimes even (at) gunpoint people are being taken out 
of their homes or workplaces to vote in glass ballot boxes," she said at a 
conference in Berlin.

   "This is the opposite of free and fair elections," Baerbock said. "And this 
is the opposite of peace. It's dictated peace. As long as this Russian diktat 
prevails in the occupied territories of Ukraine, no citizen is safe. No citizen 
is free."

   Armed troops had gone door-to-door with election officials to collect 
ballots in five days of voting. The suspiciously high margins in favor were 
characterized as a land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership 
after embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.

   Moscow-installed administrations in the four regions of southern and eastern 
Ukraine claimed Tuesday night that 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia 
region supported annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the 
Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.

   Ukraine too has dismissed the referendums as illegitimate, saying it has 
every right to retake the territories, a position that has won support from 

   The Kremlin has been unmoved by the criticism. After a counteroffensive by 
Ukraine this month dealt Moscow's forces heavy battlefield setbacks, Russia 
said it would call up 300,000 reservists to join the fight. It also warned it 
could resort to nuclear weapons.

   Also on Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said Russian shelling has killed at 
least eight civilians, including a child, and wounded scores of others. A 
12-year-old girl has been pulled out of rubble after an attack on Dnipro, 
officials said.

   "The rescuers have taken her from under the rubble, she was asleep when the 
Russian missile hit," said local administrator Valentyn Reznichenko.

   Reports of new shelling came as Russia appeared to continue to lose ground 
around a key northeastern city of Lyman while it struggles to press on with 
chaotic mobilization of troops and prevent the fighting-age men from leaving 
the country, according to a Washington-based think-tank and the British 
intelligence reports.

   The Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said Ukrainian 
forces have taken more villages around Lyman, a city some 160 kilometers (100 
miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. The report said 
Ukrainian forces may soon encircle Lyman entirely, in what would be a major 
blow to Moscow's war effort.

   "The collapse of the Lyman pocket will likely be highly consequential to the 
Russian grouping in northern Donetsk and western Luhansk oblasts and may allow 
Ukrainian troops to threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk" 
region, the institute said.

   The British military intelligence report claimed the number of Russian 
military-age men fleeing the country likely exceeds the number of forces Moscow 
used to initially invade Ukraine in February.

   "The better off and well educated are over-represented amongst those 
attempting to leave Russia," the British said. "When combined with those 
reservists who are being mobilized, the domestic economic impact of reduced 
availability of labor and the acceleration of 'brain drain' is likely to become 
increasingly significant."

   That partial mobilization is deeply unpopular in some areas, however, 
triggering protests, scattered violence, and Russians fleeing the country by 
the tens of thousands. Miles-long lines formed at some borders and Moscow also 
reportedly set up draft offices at borders to intercept some of those trying to 

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