World leaders lash Russia over Ukraine invasion, referendum plans

UNITED NATIONS: World leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions announced plans to hold referendums on joining Russia in the coming days.

In the apparently coordinated move, pro-Russian figures announced referendums for Sep 23-27 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing around 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory, or an area about the size of Hungary.

“The Russians can do whatever they want. It will not change anything,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday (Sep 20) in response to reporters’ questions at the United Nations where leaders were arriving for a General Assembly meeting dominated by the war in Ukraine.

In a tweet, he added: “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.”

If the referendum plan “wasn’t so tragic it would be funny”, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters ahead of the UN assembly in New York.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb 24 ordered what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine to root out dangerous nationalists and “denazify” the country. The war has killed thousands, destroyed cities and sent millions fleeing their homes in the former Soviet republic.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Putin will only give up his “imperial ambitions” that risk destroying Ukraine and Russia if he recognises he cannot win the war.

“This is why we will not accept any peace dictated by Russia and this is why Ukraine must be able to fend off Russia’s attack,” Scholz said in his first address to the General Assembly.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told the assembly the UN’s credibility was in danger because of the invasion by Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, and reforms of the council were needed.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a conduct that tramples the philosophy and principles of the UN charter … It should never be tolerated,” Kishida said.