Russia says it has right to use nuclear weapons if territory threatened; Moscow could annex

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Mystery leaks hit Russian undersea gas lines, raising European suspicions

European countries on Tuesday raced to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines runningunder the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Experts and also Russia, which built the network, said the possibility of sabotage could not be ruled out, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Sweden’s Maritime Authority issued a warning about two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered that had prompted Denmark to restrict shipping in a five nautical mile radius.

Both pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between European capitals and Moscow that has pummelled major Western economies, sent gas prices soaring and sparked a hunt for alternative energy supplies.

“There are some indications that it is deliberate damage,” said a European security source, while adding it was still too early to draw conclusions. “You have to ask: Who would profit?”

Russia also said the leak in the Russian network was cause for concern and sabotage was one possible cause. “No option can be ruled out right now,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

On Friday, Russian energy supplier Gazprom said it would not resume its supply of natural gas to Germany through the key Nord Stream 1 pipeline, blaming a malfunctioning turbine.

Hannibal Hanschke | Reuters

Neither pipeline was pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were found amid the dispute over the war in Ukraine, but the incidents will scupper any remaining expectations that Europe could receive gas via Nord Stream 1 before winter.

“The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,” said network operator Nord Stream AG. “It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure.”

Although neither were in operation, both pipelines still contained gas under pressure.

Denmark’s energy minister Dan Jorgensen said in a written comment leaking gas had been detected in Nord Stream 2 on Monday between Russia and Denmark.

Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled company with a monopoly on Russian gas exports by pipeline, declined comment.

— Reuters

Kazakhstan to hold talks with Moscow after influx of Russians fleeing the draft

Kazakhstan is to discuss an influx of Russians to the country following President Putin’s partial military mobilization last week.

President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev told Russian news agency Interfax that there is “neither crisis nor panic” in the country in connection with the influx of Russians, but called the situation “difficult.”

“We will hold talks with the Russian side and will solve this problem in the interests of our country,” he said.

“We do not have a crisis or panic. The government must do its job. Visitors from abroad will be assisted, but they will not receive any preferences” the president said, adding that it was important for Kazakhstan to maintain good relations with its Russian neighbor.

“The most important thing is that we maintain agreement with neighboring countries. We will not lose anything from this. In recent days, many people from Russia have been coming to us. Most of them are forced to leave due to the current hopeless situation. We must take care of them and provide their security. This is a political and humanitarian issue. I instructed the government to take the necessary measures,” Tokayev said.

On September 23, the border service of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan reported that it was registering an increase in the number of foreigners entering the border with Russia. That came a day after President Putin announced the call-up of 300,000 military reservists to fight in Ukraine, prompting a mass exodus from the country as men tried to escape the draft.

Russia says it has right to use nuclear weapons if territory threatened, top official says

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if Moscow deems it necessary, and if it deems its territory is under threat from conventional weapons.

Medvedev is seen as a close ally of President Putin and is currently the deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council. During the war he has infrequently taken to Telegram to issue aggressive anti-Western and pro-war statements.

On Tuesday, he wrote on the social media site, “Our enemies love to make grandiloquent statements [and] operate with the terms ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘mission’. In fact, this is just ritual verbal diarrhea,” he said, with the “topic of recent days is the Russian nuclear threat.”

“I have to remind you again … Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if necessary. In predetermined cases. In strict accordance with the fundamentals of state policy in the field of nuclear deterrence [or] if we or our allies are attacked using this type of weapon. Or if aggression with the use of conventional weapons threatens the very existence of our state,” he wrote.

Russian and PM Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin arrive at a meeting at Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence on July 28, 2017 outside of Moscow, Russia.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

There are heightened concerns that Russia could resort to using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine after it annexes more territory in the country — a move it is expected to announce later this week after a series of sham referendums in occupied parts of the country on joining Russia.

Despite the illegitimacy of the votes, which are widely regarded as rigged and coercive, Russia is expected to announce the annexation of four regions of Ukraine into the Russian Federation. There are concerns that Russia could resort to using nuclear weapons, justifying it on the grounds of defending Russian territory.

Russia has repeatedly insisted it would not use such catastrophic weapons, though Putin has regularly boasted about possessing such weapons. Last week, he warned the world again that he was not “bluffing” that he could use nuclear weapons, a warning the West is taking seriously.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin expected to announce annexation of Ukrainian regions on Sept. 30

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to announce that Russia is annexing four more regions of Ukraine on Friday, after a set of sham referendums held in occupied parts of the country over the last week.

Voting in the referendums, which Western countries say are illegitimate, have been taking place in Donetsk and Luhansk in east Ukraine, and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south. Voting concludes on Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address both houses of the Russian Parliament on Friday and is widely expected to use the address to formally announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

Gavriil Grigorov | Sputnik | via Reuters

President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address both houses of the Russian Parliament on Friday and is widely expected to use the address to formally announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

“Russia’s leaders almost certainly hope that any accession announcement will be seen as a vindication of the ‘special military operation’ and will consolidate patriotic support for the conflict,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update Tuesday.

“This aspiration will likely be undermined by the increasing domestic awareness of Russia’s recent battlefield sets-backs and significant unease about the partial mobilisation announced last week.”

— Holly Ellyatt

‘Referendums’ taking place under tha barrel of the gun, academic says

Sham referendums in occupied Ukraine are taking place 'under the barrel of the gun'

Dr Olexiy Haran, Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, speaks to CNBC about “referendums” being held in occupied parts of Ukraine on whether to join Russia.

The votes are widely seen as illegitimate, fake attempts by Russia to legimitize the annexation of four regions of Ukraine (Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south).

There have been multiple reports of voting irregularities and the results are expected to be rigged, with analysts saying Russia could look to announce it will annex the four regions by the end of the week.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian conscripts head off to war in Ukraine while others try to flee the draft

Many Russian reservists called up to be sent to Ukraine have been reporting for duty at military bases in Russia before setting off to fight in Ukraine. Reuters footage showed queues at the border with Georgia as men tried to escape the draft.

Video footage by Reuters in Bataysk in the Rostov region showed soldiers arriving in uniform at military recruiting offices before showing them setting off to war carrying backpacks.

“I got the draft notice yesterday. A man came and gave it to me. Mum was unhappy but what could we do, we have to defend our country,” one reservist, Roman Khodakov, told Reuters.

“Fear is one thing. The main thing is to overcome the fear. I only fear for my family; they are heartbroken. I don’t fear for myself. It’s God’s will,” he added.

A billboard promoting contract army service with an image of a serviceman and the slogan reading “Serving Russia is a real job” sits in Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2022.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The wife of another reservist said she found the situation “frightening.”

When asked what she was afraid of, Yevgeniya Naboka said, “What everybody is scared of. The main thing for him to come back alive and healthy.” Her husband, Dmitry Naboka, said he was feeling positive about the draft.

“I’m positive. I will come back alive and healthy. It’s going to be okay. I’m a sergeant in reserve.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia trying to delay the moment they lose the war, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces are delaying the inevitable moment when they lose the war in Ukraine, saying men drafted to fight in the conflict are just “cannon fodder” for Russia.

In this image taken from video, a Russian draftee kisses his partner before boarding a bus to be sent to the military units of the Eastern Military District, in Yakutsk, Russia, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mobilization is underway in Russia’s Far Eastern region of Yakutia after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists Wednesday to bolster his forces in Ukraine.

AP Photo

“Despite the obvious senselessness of the war for Russia and the occupiers’ loss of initiative, the command of the Russian military still drives them to their death,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram Monday night.

“Constant attempts of the Russian offensive in the Donetsk region will surely go down in the history of wars as one of the most cynical murders of one’s own soldiers,” he said, adding that such offensives and the Russian mobilization are an attempt to give commanders on the ground a constant stream of “cannon fodder.”

“There is simply no other point in the Russian mobilization. They felt that they will lose, and they are simply trying to delay this moment, to ensure at least some activity at the front, to replace the dead with at least someone with weapons in their hands. Unfortunately, Russian society is not yet aware of all the brutality of the Russian government towards its own people,” he added.

President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization last week, causing a flurry of Russian men set to be called up in the draft to attempt to flee the country. There have been multiple reports of standoffs between conscripts and military officials and anti-mobilization protests have erupted.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia set to annex more of Ukraine after final day of voting in sham referendums

Tuesday is the final day of voting in a series of sham referendums on joining Russia that are being held in occupied regions of Ukraine: in two pro-Russian separatist “republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south.

Today is the only day that polling stations will open, with officials citing security reasons for the brief opening, with other votes collected by officials going door to door with portable ballot boxes.

People cast their votes in controversial referendums in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on Sept. 26, 2022. Voting runs from Friday to Tuesday in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Voters are asked to decide if they want these regions to become part of Russia.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

There have been numerous reports of other irregular electoral practices and the votes are seen as illegal, coercive and staged, although Moscow insists they’re legitimate.

Russian state news agency Tass reported that voter turnout for the referenda stood at 86.89% in Donetsk, 83.61% in the Luhansk, 63.58% in the Kherson region and 66.43% in the Zaporizhzhia region although those figures could well be fake.

Ukraine’s Western allies have said they will not recognize the results of any of the fake referenda. Still, Russia is likely to hail the votes as a success and is expected to annex the four regions from Ukraine within days, analysts at risk consultancy Teneo say.

“Following the so-called referendums, Moscow is expected to swiftly annex these regions, possibly by the end of this week,” Teneo analysts said in a note Monday.

“As previously noted, Russia’s treatment of these regions as its own territory could pave the way for further escalation of the war, including ultimatums backed by nuclear threats.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Senior Russian lawmakers express concern over Putin’s mobilization as thousands attempt to flee the country

People carrying luggage walk past vehicles with Russian license plates on the Russian side of the border towards the Nizhniy Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia some 25 km outside the town of Vladikavkaz, on September 25, 2022.

– | Afp | Getty Images

Amid increasing public anger about Russia’s mobilization drive, two of the country’s most senior lawmakers ordered regional officials to solve the “excesses” that have stoked protests and seen flocks of military-age men attempt to flee.

Valentina Matviyenko and Vyacheslav Volodin both took to the Telegram messaging app to address what they said were the many complaints from the public about the mistakes that were made when recruiting civilians into the military.

“Appeals are coming in,” Volodin, speaker of the Duma, Russia’s lower chamber of Parliament, said in a post Sunday. “Each case should be dealt with separately. If a mistake is made, it must be corrected,” he said.

“All levels of government must understand their responsibility,” he added.

Videos posted to social media have also shown arguments between military recruiters and reservists, as well as members of the public, prompting even ultra-loyal pro-Kremlin figures to publicly express concern.

Read the full story from NBC News.

The Kremlin says it is in sporadic contact with Washington over nuclear issues

The St. Basil Cathedral and a Kremlin tower are visible on the Red Square in Moscow.

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The Kremlin said it was in “sporadic” contact with Washington on nuclear issues after the two traded threats concerning the use of nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.

Washington over the weekend warned of “horrific consequences” and a decisive U.S. response if Putin were to make good on his threat of using nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory. That territory, in Putin’s eyes, may soon include areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, where Moscow is now staging highly-criticized referendums to join the Russian Federation.

Ukrainian and Western officials are deriding the votes as a sham with a pre-determined outcome in favor of Russia, which they warn could give Putin a pretext to use nuclear weapons in order to attack forces trying to retake them for Ukraine.

— Natasha Turak

Russian state media reports high turnout in occupied territory referendums

Residents cast their votes in controversial referendums in the city of Dokuchaievsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on September 23, 2022. Voting will run from Friday to Tuesday in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, with people asked to decide if they want these regions to become part of Russia.

Leon Klein | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russian state news agency RIA has reported turnout levels in the Russian-controlled “referendums” in four of Ukraine’s occupied territories. It said that turnout for the votes so far ranged from 49% in the southern Kherson region to 77% in the eastern Donetsk oblast.

The announced figures are high enough that Moscow will likely deem the results legitimate, although numerous reports and videos have surfaced of people being forced to vote and votes being staged. Voting began on Friday and will run until Tuesday.

Ukrainian and international governments have roundly condemned the referendums, calling them a “sham” and refusing to recognize the results, which they say will be rigged in Russia’s favor.

— Natasha Turak

First troops in Russia’s ‘partial mobilization’ wave arrive at bases

The first troops in Russia’s “partial mobilization” wave have started arriving at military bases, and the country will struggle to arm and train them all properly, security analysts say.

“Unlike most Western armies, the Russian military provides low-level, initial training to soldiers within their designated operational units, rather than in dedicated training establishments,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense wrote in its daily intelligence update on Twitter.

“The lack of military trainers, and the haste with which Russia has started the mobilisation, suggests that many of the drafted troops will deploy to the front line with minimal relevant preparation. They are likely to suffer a high attrition rate,” the ministry wrote.

— Natasha Turak

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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