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EU seeks new sanctions on Russia after 'sham' annexation votes in Ukraine

Mayor of Mariupol Konstantin Ivashchenko (2-R) stands near armed servicemen as he speaks with members of the local election commission during voting in a referendum on annexing of Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine to Russia on Sunday. Photo by EPA-EFE
Mayor of Mariupol Konstantin Ivashchenko (2-R) stands near armed servicemen as he speaks with members of the local election commission during voting in a referendum on annexing of Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine to Russia on Sunday. Photo by EPA-EFE

Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The European Commission on Wednesday proposed new sanctions on Russia after escalated attempts to annex four regions in Ukraine, including referendums condemned as a "sham" by the international community.

The new sanctions would include trade restrictions, the banning of European citizens from holding positions at Russian state companies and restrictions on individuals linked to the illegitimate annexation referendum.

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EC President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters the commission was "determined to make the Kremlin pay" for what she characterizes as an "escalation" in efforts to annex parts of Ukraine.

The new sanctions would require all member states to agree, including Hungary, whose President Victor Orban has previously threatened to veto new energy sanctions.

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The move comes as pro-Russian leaders in four Ukrainian territories issued formal appeals to join the Russian Federation after declaring victory in Tuesday's votes.

Russian state media reported landslide wins, claiming 98% of Luhansk, 99% of Donetsk, 93% of Zaporizhzhia and 83% of Kherson voters chose annexation. The next step would be for the Russian government to formalize the annexations through the legislative process in Russia.

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Russia does not fully control all of the territories, with significant parts of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions still under Ukrainian control.

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Some of the voting was held at gunpoint. Images circulating on social media showed Russian-allied Chechen fighters going door to door with poll workers to collect votes and Russian personnel closely observing voters in a polling station.

The referendums were broadly condemned by the international community with Western governments and even some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's international partners, like Kazakhstan President Kassy-Jomart Tokayev, voicing opposition.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the referendums a "sham." Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, denounced them as illegitimate and said the United States would raise the issue at the U.N.

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"We are putting forward a resolution with Albania that condemns these sham referenda, calls on all states not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine," she said in a statement Tuesday. "If Russia uses its veto to shield itself from accountability, we will look to the U.N. General Assembly to send an unmistakable message to Moscow."

The Ukrainian government has been quick to denounce the annexation attempt, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggesting the move was partially motivated by Russian manpower shortages.

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Neighboring countries have reported an influx of men fleeing the Russian draft, which Putin instituted on Sept. 21. Others in occupied areas are being turned back.

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