Vladimir Putin has signed decrees paving the way for the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia. On Friday the Russian president is expected to sign into law the annexations of four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk – where Russia held fake referendums over the past week in order to claim a mandate for the territorial claims. Thursday night’s decrees, made public by the Kremlin, said Putin had recognised Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as independent territories. This is an intermediary step needed before Putin can go ahead with plans to declare on Friday that they are part of Russia.
The UN secretary general has warned Russia that annexing Ukrainian regions would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardise the prospects for peace in the region. António Guterres said any decision to proceed with the annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions “would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned”.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, warned of a “very harsh” response by Ukraine if Russia went ahead with the annexations.
There are indications that Russia might limit the movement of Ukrainians living in the occupied territories after it announces their annexation. Ukrainians have been told that from Saturday they will need to apply for a pass from the occupying authorities. This comes as the exiled Luhansk regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, said Russia had prevented about 1,000 Ukrainians from crossing the border into Latvia.
Russian forces may face “imminent defeat” in the key north-eastern city of Lyman as Ukrainian soldiers continue their counteroffensive in the east of the country, according to a US thinktank. The Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said the defeat would allow Ukrainian troops to “threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk” region. Alexander Petrikin, the pro-Russian head of the city administration, admitted the situation had grown “difficult” for Russian forces trying to hold the territory.
Ukrainian forces have secured all of Kupiansk and driven Russian troops from their remaining positions on the east bank of the river that divides the north-eastern Ukrainian city. Most of Kupiansk, a strategic railway junction, was recaptured earlier this month as part of a counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops. AFP reported that those Russian troops who held out on the east bank of the Oskil river have been driven out.
Finland is closing its border to Russian tourists after Putin’s partial mobilisation order prompted large numbers of people to flee the country. From midnight Thursday Finnish time (9pm GMT), Russian tourists holding an EU Schengen visa will be turned away unless they have a family tie or a compelling reason to travel.
More than half of Russians felt fearful or anxious after Putin’s mobilisation announcement, according to a new poll. The poll by the independent Levada Centre showed 47% of respondents said they had felt anxiety, fear or dread after hearing that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be drafted to fight in Ukraine.
Nato vowed a “determined response” to what it described as “deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage” after leaks were discovered in the two Nord Stream pipelines. Swedish authorities have reported a fourth leak on one of the pipelines. The two leaks in Swedish waters were close to each other.
Gas is likely to stop leaking from the damaged Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Monday, according to the pipeline’s operator. A spokesperson for Nord Stream AG said it was not possible to provide any forecasts for the pipeline’s future operation until the damage had been assessed.
The Kremlin has said incidents on the Nord Stream pipelines look like an “act of terrorism”. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said a foreign state was probably responsible. Russia’s foreign ministry claimed the “incident on the Nord Stream occurred in a zone controlled by American intelligence”.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced an eighth package of sanctions – including a draft sanctions law seen by the Guardian – designed to “make the Kremlin pay” for the escalation of the war against Ukraine. Hungary “cannot and will not support” energy sanctions in the package, said Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán. An EU official said an agreement on the next sanctions package was expected before next week’s EU summit, or at least major parts of the package.
Russia is escalating its use of Iranian-supplied “kamikaze” drones in southern Ukraine, including against the southern port of Odesa and the nearby city of Mykolaiv.
Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs, has been indicted by the US Department of Justice for criminal sanctions violations. Deripaska previously had deep links to British establishment figures.