This story recaps news from Sept. 28. For the latest news, click here.
Referendums dismissed by the West as "shams" in four Russian-held regions of Ukraine all won overwhelming support of voters, Russian election officials said Wednesday.
Russian-installed Central Elections Committees said voter turnout exceeded 90% in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia and was 79% in Kherson. All four provinces voted at least 87% in favor of joining Russia, the officials said.
Luhansk's Ukrainian Gov. Serhiy Haidai said his region had 1.8 million registered voters in 2012 and the Russians "brought'' 1.66 million to the staged referendums even though at least half the urban population has left since the war started.
“Almost no one is surprised by the results,'' Haidai said. "Thousands are outraged, but only a few are surprised.”
Russian leaders in the regions said they would lobby Russian President Vladimir Putin to quickly incorporate the provinces into Russia, the state-run Tass news agency reported. Putin is expected to do so within days or weeks.
In-person voting was held only Tuesday, the last day of voting. From Friday through Monday, election commission staffers walked their precincts with portable ballot boxes from house to house – accompanied by armed troops, the The Associated Press reported – or set up temporary outdoor voting outlets in the neighborhoods.
The U.S. proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the vote, and Ukraine called for tougher sanctions against Russia while vowing to reclaim the provinces. EU officials said they're looking into imposing "biting sanctions.''
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the referendums “are an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force. ... We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation.”
►The three pipeline leaks pumping huge volumes of natural gas into the Baltic Sea could discharge the equivalent of one-third of Denmark’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions, a Danish official warned Wednesday. European leaders have said sabotage is suspected to have caused the leaks.
►Vyacheslav Volodin, the head of the State Duma of Russia, proposed seizing the cars abandoned on the border by those who fled the country to avoid enlistment and giving them to families of Russian soldiers.
►Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said separation referendums in four Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine complicate efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Would additional sanctions hurt Russia?
Several rounds of sanctions the U.S. and about 30 other countries have imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine were supposed to bring the Kremlin to the negotiating table with a healthy appetite for a peace deal. That has yet to happen, so is there reason to believe renewed sanctions would make a difference?
That question was on the minds of lawmakers from both parties Wednesday as two architects of the Biden administration’s sanctions campaign appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Elizabeth Rosenberg, an assistant Treasury secretary, and James O’Brien, head of the State Department’s sanction coordination office, called for stronger action to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of the revenue and weapons needed to continue the assault on Ukraine.
They were met with frustration about the relative ineffectiveness of the sanctions currently in place, whose impact has been blunted by high oil and natural gas prices that have kept the Russian economy afloat while funding Putin's war machine.
“It wasn’t as crippling as we thought on Russia,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a Republican, said of the international sanctions.
The White House is vowing Russia will pay a significant economic price if it annexes Ukrainian territory as expected after the discredited referendums that ended Tuesday.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said she'd like to see more immediate results. "The frustration is we know that while we’re playing the long game, Ukrainians are dying,” she said.
U.S. grants Ukraine another $1.1 billion in military aid, including 18 HIMARS
The Pentagon on Wednesday announced $1.1 billion in additional military aid for Ukraine, including 18 precision, long-range rocket artillery systems that have been key to recent military gains by Ukraine.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems will be purchased and shipped over the next few years for Ukraine's long-term needs, according to a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon. The U.S. has already sent Ukraine 16 HIMARS launchers, and Western allies have provided 10 more.
The rockets have a range of more than 40 miles and have been used by Ukrainian troops to devastate Russian ammunition depots, supply lines and logistics hubs, the official said.
Other equipment will be sent faster, including 150 Humvees, 150 trucks and radar systems, the official said. That equipment will arrive in six months to two years.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with $19 billion in military aid since 2014, including $16.9 billion under the Biden administration.
– Tom Vanden Brook
Americans warned to get out of Russia
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a security alert for Americans in Russia, warning them to depart “immediately while limited commercial travel options remain.” The embassy cited the ongoing military mobilization in Russia to boost troops for the war in Ukraine.
“Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service,” it said.
VP Harris condemns 'Putin's war,' won't say whether fleeing Russians are welcome in US
More than 250,000 men left Russia in the first four days after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization, according to Novaya Gazeta Europe, which also reported that Putin may soon close the borders.
Three countries that share a border with Russia – Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland – received more than 194,000 of those fleeing enlistment, prompting Finnish officials to impose restrictions on Russians trying to enter. Moscow reportedly has officials at border crossings intent on handing out draft notices to those trying to leave.
During a meeting with reporters on her current trip to Japan, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked Wednesday whether Russian men escaping the draft would be welcome in the U.S. She didn't exactly answer the question.
"What Putin’s war is doing is creating massive destruction in Ukraine, and I support all good people standing up in a principled way to articulate that it is an aggression that is in violation of basic tenets of the importance of supporting and protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity,'' Harris said.
"And I do believe that in moments like this, all people should have the freedom and the courage to stand and speak about the outrageousness of the aggression and the consequences of that aggression to human life and stability in that region.''
President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, which beings Saturday. Fewer than 20,000 have been admitted in the current budget year.
Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine recap: Russia poised to annex four Ukraine regions