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Russia begins sham referendums in occupied Ukraine

Russia has begun holding fake referendums in occupied regions of Ukraine that will almost certainly end with Moscow declaring them part of the mainland.

The ‘voting’ will last five days, but for the first four of these residents will not be able to attend regular polling stations – instead, police and Russian officials will take papers door-to-door and will invite people to temporary voting booths in residential areas.

Moscow claims this is for security reasons to stop polling stations being attacked, but in reality it will provide ample opportunity for intimidation. Polls will also be opened in Russia itself, providing further opportunities for vote fraud.

Tuesday next week will be the only opportunity for people in the occupied territories to take part in general polling stations, with provisional results to be announced on Wednesday.

All occupied territories are expected to ‘vote’ to join Russia, almost certainly with 80 or 90 percent of the population ‘voting’ yes – as happened when the Kremlin staged a similar stunt in occupied Crimea in 2014 .

Western leaders have declared the ballot a sham, saying it has no legitimacy and calling on other governments not to recognize the results.

Putin has begun holding fake referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine that will almost certainly result in the regions being annexed by Russia

Putin has begun holding fake referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine that will almost certainly result in the regions being annexed by Russia

Provisional polling stations have been set up in residential areas, but police and occupation authorities will also go door-to-door to secure the result

Provisional polling stations have been set up in residential areas, but police and occupation authorities will also go door-to-door to secure the result

Provisional polling stations have been set up in residential areas, but police and occupation authorities will also go door-to-door to secure the result

World leaders have vowed to reject the 'voices', but they are still important because they will allow Putin to spin the lie to his own people that Russia itself is under attack

World leaders have vowed to reject the 'voices', but they are still important because they will allow Putin to spin the lie to his own people that Russia itself is under attack

World leaders have vowed to reject the ‘voices’, but they are still important because they will allow Putin to spin the lie to his own people that Russia itself is under attack

But the votes still mark an important moment in the war because it will allow Putin to spin the narrative to his own people that any Ukrainian attack to try to retake territory is actually an attack on Russia itself.

It expands the range of options he can use in response.

Perhaps most worryingly, it opens the way to using nuclear weapons, since Russia’s doctrine allows their use if the existence of the state is threatened.

It would also allow Putin to upgrade his ‘special military operation’ to a full-blown war, extending his powers to conscript men and punishing those who try to quit.

A copy of the ballots handed out to people asking if they agree to become part of Russia

A copy of the ballots handed out to people asking if they agree to become part of Russia

A copy of the ballots handed out to people asking if they agree to become part of Russia

This week he has declared a ‘partial mobilization’ of Russia’s population and appears intent on conscripting hundreds of thousands of men into the military.

New laws have extended soldiers’ contracts indefinitely, meaning they can’t just quit if they don’t want to continue fighting.

As voting got under way in the occupied regions, Russian social media pages were full of dramatic scenes of weeping families saying goodbye to men leaving military mobilization centers.

In cities across the country, men hugged their weeping family members before leaving as part of the draft.

Russian anti-war activists, meanwhile, planned more protests against the mobilization.

Denis Pushilin, separatist leader of the Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region, called Friday’s referendum “a historic milestone.”

Speaking in an online statement to the occupied regions on Friday, Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said: ‘If you decide to become part of the Russian Federation – we will support you.’

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said residents of the occupied regions voted for “life or death” in the referendums.

Volodymyr Zelensky today urged Russians to ‘protest’ the partial mobilization announced by Vladimir Putin, telling Kremlin troops in Ukraine to ‘fight back, run away or surrender’.

Votes are being held in four areas currently under Russian control - Donetsk and Luhansk, which together make up Donbas, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

Votes are being held in four areas currently under Russian control - Donetsk and Luhansk, which together make up Donbas, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

Votes are being held in four areas currently under Russian control – Donetsk and Luhansk, which together make up Donbas, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

Russian officials in the occupied Kherson region are preparing ballots for the referendum, which runs until Tuesday next week with results expected on Wednesday

Russian officials in the occupied Kherson region are preparing ballots for the referendum, which runs until Tuesday next week with results expected on Wednesday

Russian officials in the occupied Kherson region are preparing ballots for the referendum, which runs until Tuesday next week with results expected on Wednesday

In the first four days of voting, people are expected to either attend temporary polling stations in residential areas or vote when police come to their doors

In the first four days of voting, people are expected to either attend temporary polling stations in residential areas or vote when police come to their doors

In the first four days of voting, people are expected to either attend temporary polling stations in residential areas or vote when police come to their doors

In his daily speech, Zelensky said: ‘55,000 Russian soldiers died in these six months of war. Do you want more? None? So protest. Fight back, run away or surrender to our army.’

Zelensky also told the Russian people today that they are ‘complicit’ in Putin’s brutal invasion, which has seen the alleged torture and murder of civilians, as he then said the conscripts had a choice to ‘live, die or become a crippling’ if they can’t stop being pushed to the front line.

All flights out of Russia to neighboring areas that allow visa-free entry were almost fully booked today, while prices also soared as the partial mobilization, which so far applies to 300,000 military reservists, begins.

The Russian president’s call for thousands of troops yesterday was also accompanied by fresh threats of nuclear war against Ukraine and its Western allies.

The vote comes against a backdrop of incessant fighting in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanging fire as both sides refuse to cede ground.

On Friday morning, pro-Russian officials in the Zaporizhzhia region reported a loud explosion in the center of Melitopol, a city that Moscow captured early in the war.

The official Vladimir Rogov gave no details about what caused the explosion and whether there were any injuries or casualties.

Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region also accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the city of Donetsk, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Yasynuvata.

Ukrainian officials, in turn, reported new rounds of Russian shelling in various parts of the country.

Vladimir Putin is expected to use fake votes to claim Ukraine is attacking Russian soil, potentially opening the door to a nuclear escalation

Vladimir Putin is expected to use fake votes to claim Ukraine is attacking Russian soil, potentially opening the door to a nuclear escalation

Vladimir Putin is expected to use fake votes to claim Ukraine is attacking Russian soil, potentially opening the door to a nuclear escalation

Vitaliy Kim, governor of Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine, which borders Kherson region, said explosions rang out in the city of Mykolaiv in the early hours of Friday.

Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said the Russians unleashed a barrage of shelling on Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, on Friday morning.

Russia is now nearly seven months into what Putin expected would be a days-long war to oust the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime.

But instead he has found himself locked in a grinding war of attrition against a determined enemy backed by Western arms and money.

China and India – both of which had good relations with Putin before the war – have distanced themselves from his regime, while even North Korea has said it will not supply arms to Russia because it will “tarnish” its image.

More protests have been organized by anti-war groups as opposition to the invasion grows.

There were also reports of a mass exodus following the announcement. On Thursday, the Kremlin dismissed as “false” reports that Russians eligible for mobilization were rushing to leave.

Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, Defense Secretary James Heappey described how ‘rattling’ Mr Putin’s action was an acknowledgment of Russia’s ‘failure’.

Sir. Noting how 25,000 Russians have already died in the Ukraine conflict, Heappey told MPs that Moscow was now condemning hundreds of thousands of troops to a miserable winter.

“Russian conscripts are going to suffer terribly for the Kremlin’s hubris,” the minister added.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking in the same Commons debate, branded “weak” Mr Putin a “problem player” who takes bigger risks because he is “afraid of losing”.

The former prime minister highlighted how the price of one-way flights from Moscow to South Africa skyrocketed yesterday because potential Russian conscripts ‘don’t want to be sacrificed on the altar of his (Mr Putin’s) ego’.

Ukrainian troops fire a mortar at Russian positions in the Kharkiv region as they try to push into Donbas and retake it from Putin's troops.

Ukrainian troops fire a mortar at Russian positions in the Kharkiv region as they try to push into Donbas and retake it from Putin's troops.

Ukrainian troops fire a mortar at Russian positions in the Kharkiv region as they try to push into Donbas and retake it from Putin’s troops.

A Ukrainian flag flies over a captured Russian tank after a stunning counterattack by Kyiv's men prompted Putin to escalate

A Ukrainian flag flies over a captured Russian tank after a stunning counterattack by Kyiv's men prompted Putin to escalate

A Ukrainian flag flies over a captured Russian tank after a stunning counterattack by Kyiv’s men prompted Putin to escalate

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