Russia's defence ministry says it continues to inflict heavy losses on the Ukrainian army

Moscow suspends vote on annexation of Ukraine due to resistance

Russian Defense Ministry says it continues to inflict heavy losses on the Ukrainian army – Copyright AFP John THYS

Moscow-installed authorities in the occupied Ukrainian region said on Monday that plans for a referendum on joining Russia had been shelved.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the halt in gas supplies to Germany via the Nord Stream gas pipeline was due to Western sanctions hindering maintenance after key infrastructure was shut down indefinitely for repairs.

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

The Moscow-backed authorities have been talking for weeks about holding referendums on the formal annexation of the occupied territories to Russia, as happened during the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

But Kirill Stremousov, a pro-Moscow official in Kherson, told Russian state television that “we will pause for now” despite preparations for a referendum because of “all the events that are taking place” amid the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

He later moderated his comments, stating that the move “wasn’t a pause” as no exact date had been set.

“The referendum will take place anyway. Nobody will cancel it,” Stremousov said.

Ukrainian forces have claimed success in their counter-offensive in the south, saying they have recaptured several areas and destroyed targets including a pontoon bridge, an ammunition depot and a Russian army command center.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Sunday the return of two villages in the south and one in the east, without naming them.

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko also tweeted a photo of the Ukrainian flag being raised in the village of Vysokopolye in the northern Kherson region.

– Contradictory statements –

“The Ukrainian counteroffensive is making verifiable progress,” the US-based research team at the Institute for the Study of War said, noting progress in Kherson and eastern Donetsk Oblast.

Under a decree released Monday by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the Russian government is seeking to open two new factories to repair armored vehicles “in the interests of defense.”

Ukraine’s southern command said its forces attempted to disrupt the Russian army’s “troop movement and logistics management” through air strikes and artillery fire.

The Ukrainian security forces added that they destroyed the warehouse where the ballots for the referendum were stored.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it continues to inflict heavy casualties on the Ukrainian army.

Having failed to capture Kyiv in the first weeks of the war, Russian troops withdrew from the northern part of the country and concentrated their attacks in the south and east.

– “Western sanctions are to blame for everything” –

The Kremlin has directly blamed the “collective West – in this case the European Union, Canada and the UK” for cutting off Russian gas supplies to Germany, raising fears in Europe about severe gas shortages during the winter.

On Friday, Russian gas giant Gazprom announced that the Nord Stream gas pipeline, due to reopen over the weekend, will remain closed for further repairs due to an “oil leak” in a turbine.

As sanctions tightened, Russia cut or cut off supplies to various European countries, causing energy prices to skyrocket.

Amid concerns over energy supplies, Germany changed policy, saying it would keep two nuclear power plants on standby until the end of the year.

This move, aimed at providing electricity to the south of Germany, partially delays the exit from nuclear power.

Russia’s deputy energy minister also warned that a plan by the Group of Seven Industrialized Countries to cap the price of oil exported from Russia would sow “uncertainty” in the global market.

Alexander Novak spoke after the OPEC+ cartel agreed to cut production for the first time in more than a year in an attempt to raise prices.

Meanwhile, the European Union has signed an agreement with Ukraine for another 500 million euros ($497 million) in planned aid for housing, education and agriculture.

As the UK, a strong supporter of Ukraine under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, named Liz Truss as her replacement, Zelenskiy urged the new leader to help Kyiv “obstruct all Russia’s destructive efforts.”

Zelenskiy also spoke on Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who reiterated widespread concern about the situation at the Zaporozhye nuclear facility, stressing the “urgent need to maintain safety” at the plant.

Ukrainian power plant operator Energoatom said the facility’s last operating reactor was disconnected from the grid after it was disconnected from the remaining power line due to shelling.

The fighting around the nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has raised fears of a nuclear disaster.

Last week Zaporozhye was visited by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the head of the UN Office for Nuclear Supervision, Rafael Grossi, said that the site was damaged as a result of hostilities.

The IAEA said Grossi will release a report on nuclear security in Ukraine on Tuesday, which will include the mission’s findings, and will brief the UN Security Council on his visit the same day.

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