The Kremlin said Russia will hold a ceremony Friday to officially incorporate four areas of Ukraine into Russia, a process that Ukraine and its allies have dismissed as illegitimate while promising retaliation in the form of new sanctions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday the ceremony will include Russian President Vladimir Putin along with the Russian-appointed heads of the four regions where Russia orchestrated referendums that ended earlier this week.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Thursday that he assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Germany will never recognize the “so-called results.”
“The sham referendums carried out by Putin in the illegally occupied areas of Ukraine are worthless,” Scholz said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday that the United States expected Russian “to use these sham referenda as a false pretext to try to annex Ukrainian territory in flagrant violation of international law and the United Nations Charter.”
Jean-Pierre said that no matter 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 individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia that provide support to this action,” she said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday the EU is planning to respond with “sweeping 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 an additional 7 billion euros in revenue,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. The EU’s 27 member countries would have to approve the sanctions for them to take effect and the bloc has had difficulty in reaching agreement on some previous sanctions.
“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.
The Ukrainian territory includes the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, representing about 15% of the country.
NATO said Thursday that all available information indicates multiple leaks in undersea pipelines that carry 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 the origin.
“We, as allies, have 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 against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.”
Sweden’s Coast Guard said Thursday a fourth leak had been detected, with two total near Sweden and the other two near Denmark.
The leaks are in international waters.
The pipelines are not currently in operation, but still contained gas that escaped into the Baltic Sea.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.