US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Tuesday that the West will never recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, which he called part of a “diabolical scheme” by Moscow.
“We and many other countries have already been crystal clear. We will not — indeed, we will never — recognize the annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia,” Blinken told reporters as Kremlin proxies started to claim victory.
Blinken repeated President Joe Biden’s threat that the United States “will impose additional swift and severe costs on Russia” for going ahead with the referendums.
“It’s important to remember what’s going on here. Russia invaded Ukraine, seized territory, and is engaged in a diabolical scheme on some of the territory it seized where it has moved the local populace out,” he said.
Some people are deported and others “simply disappear,” Blinken said.
“Then they bus Russians in, they install puppet governments and they engage in the referendum and manipulate, in any event, the outcome to then claim that the territory belongs to Russia,” he said.
Pro-Russian officials across occupied Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia declared victory on Tuesday, claiming that a majority of its residents voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation.
Ukraine and its allies have denounced the referendums as a “sham” and an attempt at a land grab.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “and made clear that NATO Allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and right to self-defense.”
“The sham referenda held by Russia have no legitimacy and are a blatant violation of international law. These lands are Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
While NATO is not directly involved in the war in Ukraine, the blowback from the conflict — especially from soaring energy prices — has been felt across Europe, where countries make up the bulk of the alliance’s membership.
The energy issue became even more dramatic with leaks from two currently non-operational gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany, with Denmark and Poland raising suspicions of sabotage.
Stoltenberg, later speaking to center-left EU lawmakers, said that while facts of the pipeline leaks were not yet clear, “Russia is now weaponizing energy.”
He added that Russia had exacerbated the situation by holding “sham” votes, mobilizing more personnel into its army, and threatening nuclear strikes if attempts were made to break its grip on areas it holds.
“All this is a serious escalation of the conflict. Our message is that any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable,” Stoltenberg said.
“It will totally change the nature of the conflict and Russia must know that the nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
He said that “no one can tell how long” the war in Ukraine would go on for and that NATO allies were ready “to continue to provide support to Ukraine for the long haul.”
To that end, NATO countries need to “ramp up” the production of weapons, after depleting national arsenals to supply Ukraine’s armed forces.
He said he chaired an extraordinary meeting of NATO officials in charge of armaments early Tuesday and “we are now discussing how we, also in cooperation with the European Union, can ensure that we produce more” to boost supplies to Ukraine and ensure allies’ defense.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who visited Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Tuesday, labeled the referendums a masquerade that will elicit more sanctions.
“It is a masquerade… the votes lacked sincerity,” she told BFM TV. “There was no legitimacy, no value. We don’t recognize them, they will elicit sanctions from France, Europe, and other states in the international community.”
Colonna added: “The European Union is in the process of holding consultations for an eighth round of sanctions,” Colonna said.
She said moves were also underway concerning a resolution against Russia in the current UN General Assembly summit in New York.
“If Russia uses its veto, it will be alone and once more will show its isolation on the world stage,” she said.
The United Nations meanwhile said it was “committed” to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” within “recognized” borders.