Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv condemns ‘propaganda show’ as ‘voting’ begins in occupied areas – live | Ukraine

Referendums are ‘propaganda show’ – Ukraine official

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, has tweeted to reiterate Ukraine’s position on the “referendums” that have started today under Russian control in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. He has tweeted:

Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only – 1. Propaganda show for z-conscription. 2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

Once again about the crucial. Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only –

1. Propaganda show for z-conscription.
2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) September 23, 2022

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Once again about the crucial. Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only –

1. Propaganda show for z-conscription.
2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

– Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) September 23, 2022

The governor of the Kharkiv region Oleh Synyehubov has said 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium.

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Thirty of the bodies bore visible signs of torture in the burial site in Kharkiv, a region held largely by Russian forces before a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month, Synyehubov told reporters alongside the region’s police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko.

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Three more grave sites have been located in areas retaken by Ukrainian forces, he added.

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China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has told his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected”.

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The meeting between Wang and Kuleba took place on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York, and was the first since Russia invaded Ukraine.

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Wang was cited by Chinese state media as saying that all efforts conducive to peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis must be supported.

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The meeting took place as voting in “referendums” began in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces.

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Wang told Kuleba that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected… the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously, and all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be supported,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

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Wang also told his Ukrainian counterpart that “China has always been committed to promoting peace talks, never stands idly by, never adds fuel to the fire and never takes advantage of the situation for self-interests”, it said, adding:

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China always stands on the side of peace, and will continue to play a constructive role.

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Following the meeting, Kuleba wrote on Twitter that Wang “reaffirmed China’s respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

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Wang also restated China’s “rejection of the use of force as a means of resolving differences”, Kuleba added.

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Hello everyone. It’s Léonie Chao-Fong here, taking over the live blog from Martin Belam to bring you the latest developments from the Russia-Ukraine war. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via email.

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  • Pro-Russian authorities in four regions of occupied Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – have been conducting widely-condemned “referendums” on whether the regions desire to be annexed by the Russian Federation.

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  • Nato has condemned the plans to hold “referendums”, describing them as Moscow’s “blatant attempts at territorial conquest”. The “sham referenda” have no legitimacy, the alliance said. Referenda plans have been widely condemned as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.

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  • Voting is also taking place for displaced Ukrainian citizens within the territory of Russia.

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  • Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, described the votes as a “propaganda show”, saying “there is no legal action called a ‘referendum’ in the occupied territories.”

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  • Ivan Fedorov, Ukraine’s elected mayor of Melitopol, has said “participation in a pseudo-referendum is the worst betrayal”. Serhai Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, said that all those involved in running today’s “referendums” will be punished.

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  • The UK’s MoD says that “the battle situation remains complex” on the ground, but that “Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory that Russia considers essential to its war aims”, with fighting along the Oskil River, and a Ukrainian assault on the town of Lyman, Donetsk, which Russia captured in May.

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  • Russia’s ministry of defence has issued a statement to say that people working in key roles in the country’s information technology, financial and communications sectors will be exempt from the partial mobilisation announced earlier this week.

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  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed directly to Russians in his address on Thursday evening, calling on them to protest mobilisation, fight back, or run away. Those who did not “are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians. Because you were silent,” the Ukrainian president said.

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  • Thousands of men across Russia have been handed draft papers after the mobilisation announcement. Among those called up since Putin’s announcement on Wednesday were Russians detained while protesting against the mobilisation, the independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said.

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  • The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age as “exaggerated”. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying: “This is not against the law.”

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  • Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, also denied reports that an undisclosed clause in Putin’s mobilisation decree provided for 1 million reservists to be enlisted to fight in Ukraine. “This is a lie,” Peskov said in response to a report by Novaya Gazeta.

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  • Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas told her nation overnight that power blackouts are possible if Russia kicks the Baltic states from the joint power grid.

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Russia’s ministry of defence has issued a statement to say that people working in key roles in the country’s information technology, financial and communications sectors will be exempt from the partial mobilisation announced earlier this week.

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It says:

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To ensure the operation of certain hi-tech industries, as well as the financial system of the Russian Federation, it was decided not to recruit citizens with higher education in the relevant specialties and areas of training, working in accredited organisations operating in the field of information technology and involved in the development, implementation, maintenance and operation of solutions in the field of information technology and ensuring the functioning of the information infrastructure.

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The statement goes on to list sectors including telecoms and financial services and those working on the technical side of media organisations where people can apply to be exempted from mobilisation.

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Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi appears to have made a sympathetic interjection on the war on behalf of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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Reuters quotes him saying overnight that “Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to invent this ‘special operation’,” Berlusconi said, using the Russian wording for the war.

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Moscow’s plan was originally to conquer Kyiv “in a week”, replace Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy with “a government of decent people” and get out “in another week”, he added.

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“I haven’t even understood why Russian troops spread around Ukraine while in my mind they should have only stuck around Kyiv,” Berlusconi insisted.

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Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, has tweeted to reiterate Ukraine’s position on the “referendums” that have started today under Russian control in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. He has tweeted:

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Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only – 1. Propaganda show for z-conscription. 2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

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Russian state media is reporting that voting has begun in some of the regions of Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine where Putin announced referendums this week.

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The Tass news agency says: “Voting began at 08:00 in the DPR and LPR, as well as in the Kherson region and in the liberated territories of the Zaporozhye region.”

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The “referendums” have been decried as illegal and a “sham” by Ukraine and the west.

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Good morning. I’m Tess McClure, and will be with you for our live coverage as Europe wakes up. It’s 7.30AM in Kyiv. Here are the latest developments:

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  • Four areas of Ukraine controlled by Russia and pro-Moscow forces are preparing to hold referendums on joining Russia. Voting in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing around 15% of Ukrainian territory, is due to run from Friday to Tuesday.

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  • Nato has condemned plans to hold “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation in Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine, describing them as Moscow’s “blatant attempts at territorial conquest”. The “sham referenda” have no legitimacy, the alliance said. Referenda plans have been widely condemned by the West as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.

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  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on Russians to resist the partial military mobilisation announced by Vladimir Putin, which has sparked protests and a fresh exodus out of Russia. The Ukrainian president said in his daily address on Thursday: “55,000 Russian soldiers died in these six months of war … Want more? No? Then protest, fight back, run away, or surrender” to the Ukrainian army.

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  • Thousands of men across Russia have been handed draft papers after the mobilisation announcement. Among those called up since Putin’s announcement on Wednesday were Russians detained while protesting against the mobilisation, the independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said.

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  • The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age as “exaggerated”. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying: “This is not against the law.”

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  • Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, also denied reports that an undisclosed clause in Putin’s mobilisation decree provided for 1 million reservists to be enlisted to fight in Ukraine. “This is a lie,” Peskov said in response to a report by Novaya Gazeta.

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  • Traffic at Russian border crossings with Finland and Georgia surged after the mobilisation announcement sparked fears that men of fighting age would be called to the frontlines in Ukraine. Prices for one-way flights out of Moscow to the nearest foreign locations rose above $5,000 (£4,435), with most air tickets sold out for the coming days. Photos showed long tailbacks at border crossings with Finland and Georgia.

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  • In response, Finland’s prime minister said her government was considering ways to sharply reduce Russian tourism and transit through Finland. “The government’s will is very clear: we believe Russian tourism [to Finland] must be stopped, as well as transit through Finland,” Sanna Marin told reporters.

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  • Putin is giving directions directly to generals in the field, CNN reported. The direct orders from the Russian president to generals “hints at the dysfunctional command structure” that has affected Russian forces on the battlefield, according to two sources familiar with American and western intelligence who spoke to CNN.

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  • Many of the Ukrainians exchanged in the largest prisoner swap with Russia since the beginning of the invasion show signs of violent torture, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence said on Thursday. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced the exchange of a record-high 215 imprisoned soldiers with Russia, including fighters who led the defence of Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks that became an icon of Ukrainian resistance.

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  • The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has strongly rebuked Russia for “totally unacceptable” nuclear threats. Speaking at the start of a UN security council meeting the day after Putin raised the stakes in his invasion of Ukraine, Guterres said Moscow’s plans to annex parts of Ukraine were a “violation of the UN charter and of international law”.

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  • The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, wants European Union sanctions on Russia lifted by the end of the year, a pro-government daily newspaper said. Orban, a Putin ally, has frequently railed against the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

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  • Five Britons released from Russia are meeting their families after several months of captivity in which it was feared they would be executed for fighting for Ukraine. A major diplomatic effort was behind the release of the five Britons who, together with two Americans, a Moroccan, a Croat and a Swedish national, were released by Russia to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

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Key events

Roman Starovoytthe governor of Russia’s Kursk region, has announced extra payments for people from his region who are mobilizing to fight in Ukraine.

He opens his message on Telegram:

The first groups of mobilized [soldiers] from the Kursk region are sent to replenish the ranks of the Russian army. I instructed to prepare additional support measures for our fighters in addition to federal payments.

He then goes on to detail a series of regular additional payments, before concluding:

Some of the necessary documents have already been signed, the rest I instructed to prepare as soon as possible. Payments will also be received by those Kursk people who have already signed contracts or have been mobilized.

The Kursk region borders the north-east of Ukraine.

Dan Sabbagh

This is from Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian’s defense and security editor:

Western officials believe that Russia “will face major challenges” to mobilise 300,000 more people to its armed forces and that the country’s military will struggle to train and equip any new recruits unless the Kremlin waits several months before deploying them on the front line in Ukraine.

The intelligence acknowledged that the true recruitment target could be higher, but although some reports have suggested the Kremlin’s real goal is to mobilise 1million, the officials reiterated in a briefing on Friday that it was their belief it will be very hard for Russia to reach 300,000, never mind any larger figure.

When pressed, one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 300,000 was “an immense number of people to then try to get in any sense of semblance to be able to fight in Ukraine”. The official added: “The authorities will face major challenges even in mustering this number of personnel.”

Russia has faced problems with training and equipment throughout the conflict so far, and the officials said that would almost certainly extend to newly pressed recruits. “We think that they will be very challenged in training, let alone equipping such a large force quickly,” the official said. Recruits will likely be issued “old stuff and unreliable equipment,” they said.

Western officials believe there was a clear regional bias in Russian recruitment, focusing on poor and minority areas in the country’s east – and avoiding the country’s middle class urban centers. “We are not as yet seeing at the moment, recruiting teams in St. Petersburg or Moscow, ”an official said.

Western officials are not keen to engage particularly with recent nuclear threats issued by Vladimir Putin, but they did say they believed that it was not necessarily the case that any Ukrainian territory annexed in the coming days through so-called referendums and weeks would be deemed as covered by its nuclear umbrella.

“Russian red lines are not necessarily where they say they are,” the official said, and that “there are parts of the territory that Russia now controls which are of greater strategic significance to Moscow than others”. Although the locations were not spelled out, the Kremlin has long placed a high value on Crimea as well as the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces occupied since 2014.

The Russian central bank has issued a statement welcoming the announcement earlier that key workers in the financial, IT and communications sectors are to be excluded from Russia’s partial mobilization by the ministry of defense. [See 10.16am]

Reuters quotes the statement saying:

Employees who are engaged in critical areas will remain in their positions so the financial system can continue to work smoothly, people can receive their salaries, pensions and social benefits on time, card payments and transfers work and new loans can be issued.

Reuters is carrying a little more detail on those quotes from Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov. It quotes him saying:

We are not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons. The criteria for their use are outlined in Russia’s military doctrine. We hope the Biden administration is also aware of the danger of an uncontrolled escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.

Reuters notes that under Russia’s nuclear doctrine, use of nuclear weapons is permitted if Moscow feels it faces as “existential threat”.

Here are the words – in translation – that Vladimir Putin said in his address.

Nuclear blackmail was also launched. We are talking not only about the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is encouraged by the west, which threatens a nuclear catastrophe, but also about the statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading Nato states about the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia – nuclear weapons.

For those who allow themselves to make such statements about Russia, I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for some components more modern than those of the Nato countries.

And if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was not threatening anybody with nuclear weapons, Russian state media reported.

Ryabkov was also cited as saying that open confrontation with the US and Nato alliance was not in Russia’s interests.

A video shows Russian men who have been called up as part of Vladimir Putin’s mobilization being told by an officer that the “games are over”.

The officer is heard telling the draftees that they will receive two weeks of training before they are sent to the front.

Another revealing video. Scene inside a mustering station in Russia where an officer yells at angry, resentful men who have been mobilized.
“That’s it- playtime’s over. You’re soldiers now!”
pic.twitter.com/oTfomvgsUf

— Patrick Reevell (@Reevellp) September 23, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/Reevellp/status/1573272879655010306″,”id”:”1573272879655010306″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”64158dd6-f076-48bc-a1d6-9a313a554913″}}”>

Another revealing video. Scene inside a mustering station in Russia where an officer yells at angry, resentful men who have been mobilized.
“That’s it- playtime’s over. You’re soldiers now! “
pic.twitter.com/oTfomvgsUf

– Patrick Reevell (@Reevellp) September 23, 2022

436 bodies exhumed from mass burial site in Izium, says official

The governor of the Kharkiv region Oleh Synyehubov has said 436 bodies have been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium.

Thirty of the bodies bore visible signs of torture in the burial site in Kharkiv, a region held largely by Russian forces before a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month, Synyehubov told reporters alongside the region’s police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko.

Three more grave sites have been located in areas retaken by Ukrainian forces, he added.

Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, has condemned the “sham referenda” in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops.

The outcome of these “referendums” in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces on whether to declare independence and join Russia has been “almost certainly already decided”, Simmons wrote on Twitter.

She described the polls, which have been widely condemned in the west as illegitimate, as “a media exercise designed to pursue further an illegal invasion by Russia”.

Sham referenda. There will be results publicised of something that didn’t happen. I wonder whether anyone will even be called to vote. They won’t need to. The outcome is almost certainly already decided. A media exercise designed to pursue further an illegal invasion by 🇷🇺

— Melinda Simmons (@MelSimmonsFCDO) September 23, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/MelSimmonsFCDO/status/1573164741110992896″,”id”:”1573164741110992896″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”30e33876-4c24-4bb0-828b-b75245ab33ec”}}”>

Sham referenda. There will be results publicized of something that didn’t happen. I wonder whether anyone will even be called to vote. They won’t need to. The outcome is almost certainly already decided. A media exercise designed to pursue further an illegal invasion by 🇷🇺

– Melinda Simmons (@MelSimmonsFCDO) September 23, 2022

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.
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. Photograph: AP

Olga Chyzh, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Toronto, writes for us today about how Vladimir Putin needs nothing short of a miracle to avoid a devastating defeat in Ukraine.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Putin did not disappoint when he announced a partial military mobilization earlier this week, she writes. At the same time, the self-proclaimed leaders of the occupied Ukrainian territories have rushed to schedule the dates of the sham referendums on whether to join Russia.

If mobilising more troops is key to winning the war, then why has Putin waited this long? Why didn’t he declare mobilization at the first sign that his “three-day war” plan had hit snags? He waited so long that a longtime member of his inner circle, Ramzan Kadyrov, went on the record calling on him to escalate.

Putin has been hesitant because he knows mobilization is risky. If all goes to plan, mobilization could help quickly replenish Russian troops in occupied territories and stop Ukrainian advances. In the medium-to-long term, it could significantly increase Russia’s capacity for a new successful offensive, and with that, force Ukraine to accept peace on Russia’s terms.

Read the full opinion piece here:

Traffic into Finland across its south-eastern border with Russia continues to be busy following President Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial militarization.

The Finnish border force has published figures showing the number of Russian citizens entering the country at border crossings on Finland’s eastern border.

Six thousand four hundred and 70 Russians arrived in Finland across the land border on Thursday, it said.

An updated version of the chart we published earlier today. Exits of Russian citizens via land border have been added. Incoming traffic is now greater than outgoing traffic. Some of the arrivals return to Russia, some also travel onward to other countries. #finnishborder pic.twitter.com/IPBg5nzisc

— Rajavartiolaitos (@rajavartijat) September 23, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/rajavartijat/status/1573264124263415808″,”id”:”1573264124263415808″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”9d1c2b19-bb44-4762-9417-bbce087ce1a3″}}”>

An updated version of the chart we published earlier today. Exits of Russian citizens via land border have been added. Incoming traffic is now greater than outgoing traffic. Some of the arrivals return to Russia, some also travel onward to other countries. #finnishborder pic.twitter.com/IPBg5nzisc

– Rajavartiolaitos (@rajavartijat) September 23, 2022

Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth

Russians are now renting scooters to ride across the border into Georgia because the traffic jam in is massive and you can’t walk across. There was a similar scheme for refugees riding bicycles from Russia into Norway. (We also used to do this to get Jack in the Box drive thru) https://t.co/jLx51Wb4V2

— Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) September 23, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/Andrew__Roth/status/1573235892931948545″,”id”:”1573235892931948545″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”9e85c371-7ea5-452d-ab40-ec1add62b82a”}}”>

Russians are now renting scooters to ride across the border into Georgia because the traffic jam in is massive and you can’t walk across. There was a similar scheme for refugees riding bicycles from Russia into Norway. (We also used to do this to get Jack in the Box drive thru) https://t.co/jLx51Wb4V2

– Andrew Roth (@Andrew__Roth) September 23, 2022

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