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Four occupied Ukraine regions begin vote on joining Russia | Russia-Ukraine war News

Four areas of Russian-occupied Ukraine have started to hold referendums, which have been condemned as illegitimate by Kyiv and are seen as paving the way for Moscow to formally annex some 15 percent of Ukrainian territory.

Voting in Luhansk and Donetsk, self-proclaimed “independent republics” controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, as well as in southern Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces will continue until September 27.

The voting process in the four regions would be untraditional, Russian news agency TASS reported.

“Given the short deadlines and the lack of technical equipment, it was decided not to hold electronic voting and use the traditional paper ballots,” it said.

Authorities will go door-to-door for the first four days to collect votes, and polling stations will open only on the final day for residents to cast their ballots.

The Russian-installed leaders of the four areas abruptly announced the plans on Tuesday after a lightning Ukraine counteroffensive recaptured swathes of territory in northeastern Kharkiv that Russia had occupied after invading the country on February 24.

The results are seen as a foregone conclusion in favour of annexation, and Ukraine and its allies have already made clear they will not recognise the outcome.

A similar referendum, held in Crimea after the Russian invasion of 2014, found 97 percent in favour of formal annexation in a vote that took place under the close watch of Russian soldiers and was not recognised by the international community.

The votes are seen as a significant escalation of the seven-month-old war in Ukraine — in which thousands have been killed and millions displaced — because incorporation would allow Moscow to claim that it was defending its own territory.

“If this is all declared Russia territory, they can declare that this is a direct attack on Russia so they can fight without any reservations,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian TV.

The referendums have been condemned by the United Nations and world leaders, including United States President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as international bodies such as NATO, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Voting is due to start on Friday in the referendums, which have been condemned as illegitimate by Kyiv. There will be no outside observers to ensure the vote is free and fair [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

OSCE, which monitors elections, said the outcomes would have no legal force because they do not conform with Ukraine law or international standards and fighting is continuing in the areas where the votes are taking place.

‘All a sham’

There will be no independent observers, and polling stations in Zaporizhzhia will be under heavy guard, local officials told the RIA news agency.

Some residents continued to leave ahead of the vote. Yulia, who fled Melitopol and preferred to share only her first name for fear of reprisals, travelled to Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia, but left her parents behind.

She would told Al Jazeera they were part of an older generation who were nostalgic for the Soviet Union, which collapsed more than 30 years ago and included Ukraine. Russia recognised Ukraine’s post-Soviet borders under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

“I kept my children at home,” she said, of life in the occupied city. “At school there was too much pressure on them. They would get punished if they spoke Ukrainian. I’m afraid I won’t be able to return home because after the referendum people will need special permits to get in and out.”

In the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – the self-proclaimed republics Putin recognised as independent just before the invasion – residents will have to answer if they support their “republic’s entry into Russia”, according to TASS.

The question on the ballots in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will be phrased differently: “Are you in favour of secession from Ukraine, formation of an independent state by the region and its joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?”

“This is all a sham. This is all a charade being orchestrated by Putin,” Kurt Volker, who was US special representative for Ukraine negotiations from 2017 to 2019 and is now a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think this has any impact on the situation on the ground and won’t change Ukrainian determination to recover and recapture territories. Nor will it harm the determination in the West to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression.”

A  military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard that reads: "With Russia forever, September 27", ahead of a referendum in Luhansk
A billboard above a street in Luhansk reads: ‘With Russia forever, September 27’, ahead of the vote which begins on Friday and continues until Tuesday [File: AP Photo]

Ukraine has said the referendums were a sign of Russia’s weakness rather than strength.

Russia controls most of Luhansk and Kherson, about 80 percent of Zaporizhzhia and just 60 percent of Donetsk.

A day after the referendums were announced, Putin ordered a mobilisation of reservists to bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, and declared he was ready to use nuclear weapons to fend off any attacks on Russian territory.

“Any decision that the Russian leadership may take changes nothing for Ukraine,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

“Of interest to us are strictly the tasks before us. This is the liberation of our country, defending our people and mobilising world support [public opinion] to carry out those tasks.”

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Dozens killed, many hurt at Indonesia football match: Police | News

DEVELOPING STORY,

Police fire tear gas after fans invade pitch, triggering a stampede and killing 127 people and wounding 180 more.

Indonesian police say at least 127 people have been killed and 180 were injured after a stampede at a football match in the province of East Java.

After the match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya had ended on Saturday, supporters from the losing team had invaded the pitch and police had fired tear gas, triggering a stampede and cases of suffocation, East Java police chief Nico Afinta told reporters.

Video footage from local news channels showed people rushing onto the pitch in the stadium in Malang and images of body bags.

The Indonesian top league BRI Liga 1 has suspended games for a week following the match that Persebaya won 3-2 and an investigation had been launched, the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) said.

The Indonesian government apologised for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.

“We’re sorry for this incident… this is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.

“We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”

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What the war in Ukraine means for Asia’s climate goals

NEW DELHI, India — The queues outside petrol pumps in Sri Lanka have lessened, but not the anxiety.

Asanka Sampath, a 43-year-old factory clerk, is forever vigilant. He checks his phone for messages, walks past the pump, and browses social media to see if fuel has arrived. Delays could mean being left stranded for days.

“I am really fed up with this,” he said.

His frustrations echo that of the 22-million inhabitants of the island nation, facing its worst ever economic crisis because of heavy debts, lost tourism revenue during the pandemic, and surging costs. The consequent political turmoil culminated with the formation of a new government, but recovery has been complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the consequent upending of global energy markets.

Europe’s need for gas means that they’re competing with Asian countries, driving up prices of fossil fuels and resulting in what Tim Buckley, the director of the thinktank Climate Energy Finance, refers to as “hyper-inflation … and I use that word as an understatement.”

Most Asian countries are prioritizing energy security, sometimes over their climate goals. For rich countries like South Korea or Japan, this means forays into nuclear energy. For the enormous energy needs of China and India it implies relying on dirty coal power in the short term. But for developing countries with already-strained finances, the war is having a disproportionate impact, said Kanika Chawla, of the United Nations’ sustainable energy unit.

How Asian countries choose to go ahead would have cascading consequences: They could either double down on clean energy or decide to not phase out fossil fuels immediately.

“We are at a really important crossroads,” said Chawla.

SRI LANKA: “SLOW GRIND”

Sri Lanka is an extreme example of the predicament facing poor nations. Enormous debts prevent it from buying energy on credit, forcing it to ration fuel for key sectors with shortages anticipated for the next year.

Sri Lanka set itself a target of getting 70% of all its energy from renewable energy by 2030 and aims to reach net zero — balancing the amount of greenhouse gas they emit with how much they take out of the atmosphere — by 2050.

Its twin needs of securing energy while reducing costs means it has “no other option” than to wean itself off fossil fuels, said Aruna Kulatunga, who authored a government report for Sri Lanka’s clean energy goals. But others, like Murtaza Jafferjee, director of the think tank Advocata Institute say these targets are more “aspirational than realistic” because the current electrical grid can’t handle renewable energy.

“It will be a slow grind,” said Jafferjee.

Grids that run on renewable energy need to be nimbler because, unlike fossil fuels, energy from wind or the sun fluctuates, potentially stressing transmission grids.

The economic crisis has decreased demand for energy in Sri Lanka. So while there are still power cuts, the country’s existing sources — coal and oil-fired plants, hydropower, and some solar — are coping.

CHINA, INDIA: HOME-GROWN ENERGY

How these two nations meet this demand will have global ramifications.

And the answer, at least in the short-term, appears to be a reliance on dirty-coal power — a key source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions.

China, currently the top emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, aims to reach net zero by 2060, requiring significant slashing of emissions.

But since the war, China has not only imported more fossil fuels from Russia but also boosted its own coal output. The war, combined with a severe drought and a domestic energy crisis, means the country is prioritizing keeping the lights on over cutting dirty fuel sources.

India aims to reach net zero a decade later than China and is third on the list of current global emitters, although their historical emissions are very low. No other country will see a bigger increase in energy demand than India in the coming years, and it is estimated that the nation will need $223 billion to meet its 2030 clean energy targets. Like China, India’s looking to ramp up coal production to reduce dependence on expensive imports and is still in the market for Russian oil despite calls for sanctions.

But the size of future demand also means that neither country has a choice but to also boost their clean energy.

China is leading the way on renewable energy and moving away from fossil fuel dependence, said Buckley, who tracks the country’s energy policy.

“It might be because they are paranoid about climate change or because they want to absolutely dominate industries of the future,” said Buckley. “At the end of the day, the reason doesn’t really matter.”

India is also investing heavily in renewable energy and has committed to producing 50% of its power from clean energy sources by 2030.

“The invasion has made India rethink its energy security concerns,” said Swati D’Souza, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

More domestic production doesn’t mean that the two countries are burning more coal, but instead substituting expensive imported coal with cheap homegrown energy, said Christoph Bertram at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. What was “crucial” for global climate goals was where future investments were directed.

“The flipside of investing into coal means you invest less into renewables,” he said.

JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA: THE NUCLEAR OPTION

Both Japan and South Korea, two of Asia’s most developed countries, are pushing for nuclear energy after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions against Russian coal and gas imports resulted in Japan looking for alternative energy sources despite anti-nuclear sentiments dating back to the 2011 Fukushima disaster. An earlier-than-expected summer resulted in power shortages, and the government announced plans to speed up regulatory safety checks to get more reactors running.

Japan aims to limit nuclear energy to less than a quarter of its energy mix, a goal seen as overly optimistic, but the recent push indicates that nuclear may play a larger role in the country.

Neighboring South Korea hasn’t seen short-term impacts on energy supplies since it gets gas from countries like Qatar and Australia and its oil from the Middle East. But there may be an indirect hit from European efforts to secure energy from those same sources, driving up prices.

Like Japan, South Korea’s new government has promoted nuclear-generated electricity and has indicated reluctance to sharply reduce the country’s coal and gas dependence since it wants to boost the economy.

“If this war continues … we will obviously face a question on what should be done about the rising costs,” said Ahn Jaehun, from the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement.

INDONESIA: DAMAGE CONTROL

The war, and consequent rising gas prices, forced Indonesia to reduce ballooning subsidies aimed at keeping fuel prices and some power tariffs in check.

But this was a very “hurried reform” and doesn’t address the challenge of weaning the world’s largest coal exporter off fossil fuels and reaching its 2060 net zero goal, said Anissa. R. Suharsono, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

“We’re sliding back, into just firefighting,” she said.

Coal exports have increased nearly 1.5 times between April and June, compared to 2021, in response to European demand and Indonesia has already produced over 80% of the total coal it produced last year, according to government data.

The country needs to nearly triple its clean energy investment by 2030 to achieve net zero by 2060, according to the International Energy Agency, but Suharsono said it wasn’t clear how it was going to meet those targets.

“There are currently no overarching regulations or a clear roadmap,” she said.

———

Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Japan, Tong-hyung Kim and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.

———

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Ukraine hails ‘next step towards liberation’ as Russia retreats | Russia-Ukraine war News

After being encircled by Ukrainian forces, Russia pulled troops out from the strategic eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman – the latest victory for Kyiv’s counteroffensive that has humiliated and angered Moscow.

The announcement on Saturday came a day after President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the annexation of four Ukrainian regions – including Donetsk, where Lyman is located – and placed them under Russia’s nuclear umbrella, at a ceremony condemned by Kyiv and the West as an illegitimate farce.

“In connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement, allied troops were withdrawn from the settlement of Krasny Liman to more advantageous lines,” Russia’s defence ministry said, using the Russian name of the city.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later said in a video address although the Ukrainian flag was flying in the city, “fighting is still going on there”.

He also indicated Ukrainian troops had taken the village of Torske, on the main road out of Lyman to the east.

The Russian statement ended hours of official silence after Ukraine first said it surrounded thousands of Russian troops in the area and then that its forces were inside the city.

Ukraine’s defence ministry wrote on Twitter that “almost all” the Russian troops in Lyman had either been captured or killed.

‘Drastic measures’

Located 160km (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Lyman is in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk, two regions that Russia annexed on Friday.

“The Russian grouping in the area of Lyman is surrounded,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern forces.

Russia has used Lyman as a logistics and transport hub for its operations in the north of the Donetsk region. Its capture would be Ukraine’s biggest battlefield gain since a counterattack in the northeastern Kharkiv region last month.

The recent Ukrainian successes have infuriated Putin allies such as Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, who said he felt compelled to speak out.

“In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.

Other top Putin allies, including former President Dmitry Medvedev, have suggested Russia may need to resort to nuclear weapons, but Kadyrov’s call was the most urgent and explicit.

Putin said last week he was not bluffing when he said he was prepared to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity” with all available means, and on Friday made clear this extended to the new regions claimed by Moscow.

Washington says it would respond decisively to any use of nuclear weapons and has spelled out to Moscow the “catastrophic consequences” it would face.

‘Psychologically very important’

Two Ukrainian soldiers taped the yellow-and-blue national flag to the Lyman welcome sign at an entrance to the city, a video posted by the president’s chief of staff showed.

“October 1. We’re unfurling our state flag and establishing it on our land. Lyman will be Ukraine,” one of the soldiers said.

Ukraine said controlling Lyman would allow Kyiv to advance into the Luhansk region, whose full capture Moscow announced in early July after weeks of grinding advances.

“Lyman is important because it is the next step towards the liberation of the Ukrainian Donbas. It is an opportunity to go further to Kreminna and Severodonetsk, and it is psychologically very important,” Cherevatyi said.

Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the wider Donbas region that has been a major focus for Russia since soon after the start of Moscow’s invasion on February 24 in what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour.

Putin proclaimed the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia to be Russian land on Friday – a swath of territory equal to about 18 percent of Ukraine’s total surface land area.

Ukraine and its Western allies branded Russia’s move as illegal. Kyiv promised to continue liberating its land from Russian forces and said it would not hold peace talks with Moscow while Putin remained president.

Meanwhile, on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula, the governor of the city of Sevastopol announced an emergency situation at an airfield there. Explosions and huge billows of smoke could be seen by beachgoers in the Russian-held resort. Authorities said a plane rolled off the runway at the Belbek airfield, and said ammunition on board had caught fire.

Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of targetting two humanitarian convoys in recent days, killing dozens of civilians.

In other developments, in an apparent attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov.

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