Russia issues new nuke warning
An ally of President Vladimir Putin yesterday issued a stark new nuclear warning to Ukraine and the West as Russia began releasing results of referendums it bills as a prelude to it annexing four Ukrainian regions.
Moscow's latest broadside came as European countries rushed to investigate unexplained, major leaks in two Russian natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea, which posed risks of explosions and the sinking of any ships that enter the area.
The Kremlin, which has blamed technical problems for earlier cuts in Russian gas supplies to Europe, said it could not rule out sabotage, without saying who was to blame.
Yesterday's nuclear warning by Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, is one of several issued by Putin and his associates in recent weeks.
Analysts say they are designed to deter Ukraine and the West by hinting at a readiness to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend newly annexed territory.
Medvedev's warning differed from earlier ones in that he predicted for the first time that the Nato military alliance would not risk a nuclear war and directly enter the Ukraine war even if Moscow struck Ukraine with nuclear weapons.
"I believe that Nato would not directly interfere in the conflict even in this scenario," Medvedev said in a post on Telegram. "The demagogues across the ocean and in Europe are not going to die in a nuclear apocalypse."
First partial voting results from four regions of Ukraine partly occupied by Russia and its proxies showed overwhelming majorities in favour of joining Russia, Russia's state news agency RIA reported.
It was a widely anticipated announcement after a five-day referendum that Kyiv and the West have denounced as a sham and say they will not recognise. Ukraine urged the EU to impose new punitive sanctions in response to votes it said were carried out at gunpoint in many cases.
The British Ministry of Defence said that Putin was likely to announce the accession of the occupied regions to the Russian Federation during an address to parliament on September 30.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian forces were locked in heavy fighting in different parts of Ukraine yesterday.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Donetsk region in the east remained his country's -- and Russia's -- top strategic priority, with "particularly severe" fighting engulfing several towns as Russian troops try to advance to the south and west.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional governor, said three civilians had been killed and 13 wounded in the Donetsk region in the past 24 hours.
There were also reported clashes in the Kharkiv region in the northeast -- focus of a Ukrainian counter-offensive this month. And Ukrainian forces pressed on with a campaign to keep bridges and other river crossings out of action to disrupt supply lines to Russian forces in the south.
The Ukrainian air force said it had shot down three Iranian-made drones operated by Russia after an attack on the Mykolaiv region.