At the UN, Lavrov promises “total protection” for any territory annexed by Russia

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukrainian provinces where referendums are being held, contested by Western countries, will receive “full protection” from Russia in the event of annexation, raising fears of an escalation in the war in Ukraine and the use of nuclear weapons.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly and the international press in New York on Saturday, Sergei Lavrov tried to justify the invasion of Ukraine, repeating false claims that the Kyiv government is not legitimate, that it is made up of neo-Nazis and that it oppresses Russian speakers in the east of the country.

Russia has been holding referendums in four eastern Ukrainian provinces since Friday to annex territories conquered by force.

Kyiv said residents of these provinces were forced to vote and were not allowed to leave these areas during the referendums which run until Tuesday.

Western countries have condemned these referendums, which they describe as a sham intended to justify an escalation of the conflict which has lasted for seven months.

“Following these referendums, Russia will of course respect the expression of the will of these people who have suffered for many years from the abuses of the neo-Nazi regime,” said the Russian Foreign Minister after his speech to the Assembly General of the United Nations.

Asked if Russia could use nuclear weapons to defend the annexed Ukrainian regions, Sergei Lavrov indicated that Russian territory, including that which will be “subsequently incorporated” into the Russian constitution, “is under the full protection of the State”.

“All laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply throughout its territory,” the minister said, also referring specifically to Russian doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now head of Vladimir Putin’s Security Council, has warned that all weapons in Russia’s arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories integrated into Russia.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Sergei Lavrov’s remarks “irresponsible” and “totally unacceptable”.

“Ukraine will not back down. We call on all nuclear powers to speak out now and make it clear to Russia that such rhetoric endangers the world and will not be tolerated,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

Russia accuses the United States and its allies of being parties to the conflict by sending arms to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the referendums, the results of which will not be recognized by Western countries.

(Report Michelle Nichols, Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis, French version Matthieu Protard)


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