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Moscow ‘suspends’ Ukraine annexation vote amid response

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Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – Russian-installed authorities in an occupied Ukrainian region suggested on Monday that plans for a referendum on joining Russia had been delayed, with Moscow blaming Western sanctions for cutting off gas supplies across the country. Europe.

Since the first weeks of the February invasion, Kherson and the southern region of Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russian control and are now forcefully integrated into its economy.

Moscow-backed authorities have been talking for several weeks about holding referenda to formally reunite the occupied territories with Russia, as happened with the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

But Kirill Stremousov, a pro-Moscow official in Kherson, told Russian state television that ‘we will take a break for now’ despite preparing for a referendum because of ‘all the events that are happening’. , in the midst of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

He then moderated his comments, saying the move “wasn’t a break” as no specific date had been set.

“The referendum will take place no matter what. No one will cancel it,” Stremousov said in a video posted on Telegram.

Ukrainian forces claimed gains in their counteroffensive in the south, saying they recaptured several areas and destroyed targets including a pontoon bridge.

Ukraine’s Southern Command said late on Sunday that a Russian army ammunition depot and control center southeast of the city of Kherson had also been hit.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Sunday the resumption of two villages in the south and one in the east, without giving their names.

Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko also tweeted a photo of a Ukrainian flag raised in the village of Vysokopillia, north of Kherson region.

The counter-offensive is making “progress”

“The Ukrainian counteroffensive is making verifiable progress,” the US research group Institute for the Study of Warfare said in a report, noting gains in Kherson and the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s Southern Command said its forces were trying to disrupt the Russian military’s “management of troop movements and logistics” with airstrikes and artillery fire.

Ukrainian forces added that they had destroyed a warehouse where ballot papers for the referendum were stored.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday it was continuing to inflict heavy casualties on the Ukrainian military.

After failing to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the war, Russian troops withdrew from the north of the country and concentrated their attacks on the south and east.

“Blame Western Sanctions”

The Kremlin said on Monday that the halt in gas deliveries to Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline was due to Western sanctions hampering maintenance, after key infrastructure was shut down indefinitely for repairs.

Western sanctions “prevent units from being maintained” and moved with “appropriate legal safeguards” and “brought the situation to what we see now”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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“It is the collective West – in this case, the European Union, Canada and Britain – that is to blame for the situation getting to this point,” Peskov said.

Russian gas giant Gazprom announced on Friday that the Nord Stream gas pipeline which was due to reopen this weekend would remain closed for further repairs after “oil leaks” at a turbine.

As sanctions have been tightened, Russia has reduced or halted deliveries to various European countries, causing energy prices to spike.

Meanwhile, the European Union on Monday signed an agreement with Ukraine to release an additional 500 million euros ($497 million) in planned aid, for housing, education and agriculture.

The European Commission – the executive arm of the EU – announced the package during a meeting in Brussels with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal.

In Kyiv, the Ukrainian power plant operator said the last working reactor at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site had been cut off from the grid after being disconnected from its last remaining power line due to a bombardment.

“The power unit (reactor) n°6 was stopped and disconnected from the network” because of a fire which “triggered because of the bombardments”, according to a press release from Energoatom.

The fighting around the nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has fueled fears of an atomic disaster.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Zaporizhzhia last week, and the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said the site had been damaged in the fighting.

He also suspects that Moscow intends to divert power from the plant to the nearby Crimean peninsula.