Finnish border closed to Russians with tourist visas

Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to hold a Kremlin ceremony on Friday annexing four regions of Ukraine, while his Ukrainian counterpart said Putin should be arrested if Russia is to avoid the most damaging consequences of the war.
There was also a warning from United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who said the planned annexations were a “dangerous escalation” and undermined prospects for peace.
Putin doubled down on the invasion he ordered in February despite a major battlefield reversal this month and discontent in Russia over a widely criticized ‘partial mobilization’ of thousands more troops to fight in Ukraine. Russia calls the war in Ukraine a “special operation”.
“The cost of someone in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a dignified life or any respect for humanitarian values,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech late Thursday.
“He can still be arrested. But to stop him, we have to stop this person in Russia who wants war more than life. Your lives, citizens of Russia,” said Zelensky, who previously spoke of Ukraine’s “very harsh” reaction to Russia’s recognition of the so-called referendum results.
Moscow is planning the annexation of eastern and southern provinces after what Ukraine and Western countries have called sham votes held at gunpoint in the Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The territory controlled by Russia amounts to more than 90,000 km2, or about 15% of the total area of ​​Ukraine, or the equivalent of the size of Hungary or Portugal.
Putin took the interim step of signing decrees on Thursday paving the way for the formal annexation of the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to Russia. The decrees were made public by the Kremlin.
Zelensky has pledged a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday where “fundamental decisions” will be made, an official said.

CEREMONY
On the eve of the planned ceremony in the Georgievsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace and a concert in Red Square, Putin said “all mistakes” made in a convocation announced last week should be corrected, his first public recognition she had did not go smoothly.
Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid a draft that has been portrayed as enlisting those with military experience and required specialties, but who have often seemed oblivious to service records, health, student status or even the age of individuals.
Russia says the referendums, ostensibly asking people in the four regions if they wanted to be part of Russia, were genuine and showed public support.
At Friday’s event, Putin will deliver a speech, meet with leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) as well as Russian-installed leaders in parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that Russian forces occupy.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say whether Putin would attend the concert in Red Square, as he did at a similar event in 2014 after Russia proclaimed it had annexed the region Crimean Ukrainian.
A stage was set up in Moscow Square with giant video screens and billboards proclaiming the four regions that are part of Russia.
“Any decision to proceed with annexation (…) would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” UN Secretary General Guterres told reporters.
US President Joe Biden has said the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory, denouncing the referendums. “The results were fabricated in Moscow,” Biden told a Pacific Island leaders conference on Thursday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has urged Putin to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

NUCLEAR UMBRELLA
Russian government officials said the four regions would fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella once they were formally incorporated into Russia. Putin has said he could use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory if necessary.
Washington and the European Union are set to impose additional sanctions on Russia over the annexation plan, and even some of Russia’s close traditional allies, such as Serbia and Kazakhstan, say they won’t. will not recognize this decision.
What Russia presents as a celebration comes after Moscow faced its worst setbacks in the seven-month war, with its forces routed in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine.
Heavy fighting continues in the four disputed regions, especially Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Our situation (in the Luhansk region) is more difficult than in the Kharkiv region. There is no element of surprise here,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said Thursday. “They (Ukrainian Armed Forces) are advancing. And I hope that we will receive very positive news in the near future.
Some military experts say Kyiv is poised to deliver another major defeat, gradually encircling the town of Lyman, Russia’s main remaining stronghold in the northern part of Donetsk province.
“The most difficult area for us remains (Lyman). Allied forces hold firm. And given that reinforcements are coming, I think we will make a breakthrough there,” Denis Pushilin, leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Telegram.

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