https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11253841/Nord-Stream-pipelines-supplying-gas-Russia-suffer-unprecedented-damage-start-leaking.html

Did Putin’s frogmen blow up Europe’s gas supplies? Western leaders blame ‘deliberate’ sabotage after Nord Stream pipe from Russia ruptured off Sweden causing 3000ft-wide bubbles and sending prices spiking

  • Three leaks were reported in Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines near Danish island last night and this morning
  • Pipelines are leaking gas into the Baltic Sea, with one area more than 3,000ft wide churning with bubbles
  •  Danish PM Mette Frederiksen has said her government believes the leaks were caused by ‘deliberate actions’
  • Ukraine also pointed the finger at Moscow, describing the incident as a ‘terrorist attack and act of aggression’
  • Latvian Defence Minister has called on Nato and EU’s member states to jointly investigate the pipeline blasts

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Western leaders have blamed ‘deliberate’ sabotage after the Nordsteam pipe from Russia suffered ‘unprecedented’ damage off Sweden – causing 3000ft-wide bubbles in the Baltic Sea and causing prices to spike.

Explosions were heard near the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipes where gas is now leaking into the Baltic from three holes, scientists have confirmed, while chronic safety concerns have led to a five-mile exclusion zone being imposed around the affected area.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said her government believes the leaks were caused by ‘deliberate actions’, adding that the gas supply pipeline will be out of action for around a week.

She said this evening: ‘It is now the clear assessment by authorities that these are deliberate actions. It was not an accident. There is no information yet to indicate who may be behind this action.’ 

Her Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen also said the size of the holes in the pipelines indicate that the leaks could not have been caused by an accident such as getting hit by an anchor. The damaged pipelines are at a depth of 70-90 meters below sea level, he added.

The remarks were backed by Sweden’s PM Magdalena Andersson, who has said informations suggests the blasts were likely sabotage.

She said her government was in close contact with partners such as Nato and neighbours such as Denmark and Germany concerning the developments.

Ms Andersson continued: ‘We have Swedish intelligence, but we have also received information in our contacts with Denmark, and based on this concluded that this is probably a deliberate act. It is probably a matter of sabotage.

‘It is not a matter of an attack on Swedish or Danish territory. But that said, the government is taking what happened very seriously, not the least in light of the current security situation on our close proximity.’

Investigations are ongoing into major leaks in Russian pipelines that are now spewing gas into the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, including assessing evidence of possible sabotage.

It comes after Kyiv’s presidential advisor Mikhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter: ‘The large-scale gas leak is nothing more than a terrorist attack planned by Russia and an act of aggression towards the EU.’

Podolyak accused Russia of seeking to ‘destabilise the economic situation in Europe and cause pre-winter panic’.

Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks also today called on Nato and the EU’s member states to jointly investigate the Nord Stream blasts.

While it may not be in Russia’s long-term economic interests to destroy one of its key potential money earners, the destructive act could create economic panic in Europe in the short term. 

The leaks, which emerged on Monday and are expected to last several days, raised concerns over environmental damage. They caused a spike in the price of natural resources – a possible Russian motivation for sabotage.

Initially they were assumed to have been accidental, but opinions rapidly changed yesterday with several governments stating that three separate leaks happening almost simultaneously was beyond coincidence.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said it did not rule out sabotage as a reason for the damage to the Russian-built network, which has not been supplying any gas to Germany in recent months.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ‘This is very concerning news. No option can be ruled out right now.’ But European neighbours said that the sabotage was carried out by Russia itself – even though it would be hugely damaging in economic terms,

It comes after shocking footage released earlier today by the Danish military from a flyover of the affected region showed huge swathes of the sea near the Danish island of Bornholm churning as the gas bubbled to the surface.

A military statement claimed that the largest leak ‘is spreading bubbles a good kilometre (3,280ft) in diameter. The smallest is creating a circle about 200 metres (656 feet) in diameter’, while the head of Denmark’s Energy Agency said it could take up to a week for gas to stop draining into the sea.

‘The sea surface is full of methane, which means there is an increased risk of explosions in the area,’ Kristoffer Bottzauw said, adding that ships could lose buoyancy if the entered the affected region.

A huge swathe of Baltic sea is pictured from this helicopter flyover showing bubbles breaking the surface amid a gas leak

A satellite image released by Planet Labs PBC showing the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline off the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm, south of Dueodde, in the Baltic sea

A satellite image released by Planet Labs PBC showing the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline off the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm, south of Dueodde, in the Baltic sea

Poland's Prime Minister said he believed the pipelines had been sabotaged at an opening of a new pipeline between Norway and his nation today (Baltic Sea is pictured as gas escapes from undersea pipes)

Poland’s Prime Minister said he believed the pipelines had been sabotaged at an opening of a new pipeline between Norway and his nation today (Baltic Sea is pictured as gas escapes from undersea pipes)

A large disturbance in the sea can be observed off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 following a series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany

A large disturbance in the sea can be observed off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 following a series of unusual leaks on two natural gas pipelines running from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany

Shocking footage released earlier today by the Danish military from a flyover of the affected region showed huge swathes of the Baltic Sea near the Danish controlled Bornholm island churning as the gas bubbled to the surface

Shocking footage released earlier today by the Danish military from a flyover of the affected region showed huge swathes of the Baltic Sea near the Danish controlled Bornholm island churning as the gas bubbled to the surface

A reading from a German Centre for Georesearch seismograph on the Danish island of Bornholm shows two spikes, at 0003 and 1700 GMT, followed by a lower-level 'hissing' on the day when the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Baltic gas pipelines sprang leaks one after the other

A reading from a German Centre for Georesearch seismograph on the Danish island of Bornholm shows two spikes, at 0003 and 1700 GMT, followed by a lower-level ‘hissing’ on the day when the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Baltic gas pipelines sprang leaks one after the other

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it would be ‘in no-one’s interest’ if attacks or acts of sabotage caused the leaks detected in the Nord Stream gas pipelines amid an energy standoff between Europe and Russia over gas supplies.

Speaking alongside India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, he added: ‘There are initial reports indicating that this may be the result of an attack or some kind of sabotage, but these are initial reports and we haven’t confirmed that yet. But if it is confirmed, that’s clearly in no one’s interest.’

The White House said the US was ready to provide support to European partners conducting an investigation.

Blinken added that his understanding was leaks would not have a significant impact on Europe’s energy resilience, and reiterated that Washington was working to address energy security for Europe in the short- and long-term.

European gas prices rose on the news of the leaks, with the benchmark October Dutch price up almost 10 per cent on Tuesday. Prices are still below this year’s stratospheric peaks, but remain more than 200 per cent higher than in early September 2021. 

The unsettling incident comes as Sweden’s National Seismology Centre (SNSN) announced that their equipment registered powerful undersea blasts in the region yesterday. It said one explosion was equivalent to a magnitude-2.3 earthquake.

The Nord Stream pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between Europe and Moscow amid Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine that has pummelled major Western economies and sent gas prices soaring. 

The cause of the leaks has not yet been confirmed, however, and the European Commission said it was too early to speculate on the potential causes. 

Meanwhile, Norway said it will strengthen security at its oil and gas installations in the wake of the gas leaks amid reports of drones buzzing its rigs.  Newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad reported last week that unidentified drones had been observed at least at six Equinor installations, including at its giant oilfield Johan Sverdrup.

Last Tuesday, a drone was observed some 50 meters away from Equinor’s Heidrun platform in the North Sea, breaching the 500-metre security perimeter, the newspaper reported.

‘There is no doubt that these were explosions,’ SNSN seismologist Bjorn Lund told broadcaster SVT, suggesting the pipelines were likely sabotaged.

‘With energy releases this big there isn’t much else than a blast that could cause it,’ another seismologist added. ‘You can see that they are quite sudden. It is a very sudden energy release. It’s not a slow collapse of something.’ 

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: ‘We faced an act of sabotage, we don’t know all the details of what happened, but we see clearly that it’s an act of sabotage, related to the next step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine.’

Anders Puck Nielsen, a researcher with the Centre for Maritime Operations at the Royal Danish Defence College, said the timing of the leaks was ‘conspicuous’ given that a new pipeline carrying gas from Norway to Poland was opened today.

‘The arrow points in the direction of Russia,’ he said. ‘No one in the West is interested in having any kind of instability in the energy market.’

The extent of the damage means the Nord Stream pipelines are unlikely to carry any gas to Europe this winter even if there was political will to bring them online, analysts at the Eurasia Group said.

‘Depending on the scale of the damage, the leaks could even mean a permanent closure of both lines,’ Henning Gloystein and Jason Bush wrote.

They noted that undersea pipelines are designed so they can not be damaged accidentally and leaks are rare.

Mr Puck Nielsen said of possible sabotage that ‘technically speaking, this is not difficult. It just requires a boat. It requires some divers that know how to handle explosive devices’.

‘But I think if we look at who would actually benefit from disturbances, more chaos on the gas market in Europe, I think there’s basically only one actor right now that actually benefits from more uncertainty, and that is Russia,’ he added.

 

A handout photo taken from a Danish F-16 jet on 27 September 2022 and made available by the Danish Defence Command shows a gas leak of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline off Bornholm, Denmark, Baltic Sea

A handout photo taken from a Danish F-16 jet on 27 September 2022 and made available by the Danish Defence Command shows a gas leak of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline off Bornholm, Denmark, Baltic Sea

A huge churn can be seen at the centre of this large expanse of methane bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea

A huge churn can be seen at the centre of this large expanse of methane bubbling to the surface of the Baltic Sea

A Danish military statement claimed that the largest leak 'is spreading bubbles a good kilometre (3,280ft) in diameter. The smallest is creating a circle about 200 metres (656 feet) in diameter'

A Danish military statement claimed that the largest leak ‘is spreading bubbles a good kilometre (3,280ft) in diameter. The smallest is creating a circle about 200 metres (656 feet) in diameter’

Kazakhstan risks Putin’s wrath: Ex-Soviet ally vows to ‘care’ for Russians fleeing ‘hopeless situation’ 

Kazakhstan has risked the wrath of Putin by offering to ‘care for’ Russian men fleeing conscription due to the ‘hopeless situation’ back home.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, president of the ex-Soviet state, also offered muted criticism of Putin’s war – saying that the ‘territorial integrity of states must be preserved’ as the despot moves to carve up Ukraine using sham referenda. 

He spoke as the country’s interior ministry revealed almost 100,000 Russians have crossed the border in six days since Putin ordered fighting-age men to be drafted. 

Tokayev’s speech marks the latest act of defiance from a country that has been a close ally of Moscow in the past, and is the latest rumbling of discontent from Russia’s satellite states in Asia as Putin’s power wanes.

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Two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline were reported by Sweden’s Maritime Authority last night, shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered that prompted Denmark to restrict shipping in the area. 

Of the two pipelines hit by leaks, Nord Stream 2 has never operated, while Nord Stream 1 carried gas to Germany until late August when Russian energy giant Gazprom cut off the supply, claiming there was a need for urgent maintenance work.

Gazprom’s explanation of technical problems have been rejected by German officials as a cover for a political power play to raise prices and spread uncertainty.

The fresh incidents will hinder any effort to start or restart either pipeline for commercial operations, and triggered an investigation with Swedish and Danish energy agencies. 

The head of Denmark’s energy agency warned such leaks ‘happen extremely rarely’, lending further credence to speculations of sabotage given that three separate leaks sprung up across two different pipelines.  

Denmark’s energy minister Dan Jorgensen said this morning: ‘Yesterday, a leak was detected on one of the two gas pipelines between Russia and Denmark – Nord Stream 2. The pipeline is not in operation, but contains natural gas, which is now leaking.

‘Authorities have now been informed that there have been 2 more leaks on Nord Stream 1, which is also not in operation but contains gas,’ he added.

The leaks were located northeast of the Danish island Bornholm, a Swedish Maritime authority spokesperson said. 

Gazprom, who owns the majority stake in Nord Stream AG which owns and operates the pipelines, declined to comment. 

Nord Stream AG however released a statement warning that the pipelines had suffered ‘unprecedented damage’ in one day.

‘The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,’ it said.

One European governmental source, when asked if there was specific intelligence indicating sabotage, said: ‘Not specific yet, but it seems this pressure failure can only happen when a pipe is completely cut. Which pretty much says it all.’ 

Nord Stream 1 has not been supplying gas to Europe since late August after Moscow announced the pipeline would be closed for three days for maintenance.

The pipeline was never opened again after the G7 group of advanced economic nations in early September agreed an price cap on Russian oil and moved to bar insurance for tankers or shipping companies helping Moscow to sell supplies above the cap.

The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline was completed earlier this year but had not entered commercial operations. 

The plan to supply gas via the pipeline was scrapped by Germany days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February.

European politicians say Moscow’s decision to close the pipeline was simply a pretext to slash supply and hasten a European energy crisis.

The head of Denmark's energy agency warned such leaks 'happen extremely rarely', lending further credence to speculations of sabotage given that three separate leaks sprung up across two different pipelines

The head of Denmark’s energy agency warned such leaks ‘happen extremely rarely’, lending further credence to speculations of sabotage given that three separate leaks sprung up across two different pipelines

Putin has kept the Nord Stream 1 pipeline closed since August after the G7 group of advanced economic nations in early September agreed an price cap on Russian oil and moved to bar insurance for tankers or shipping companies helping Moscow to sell supplies above the cap

Putin has kept the Nord Stream 1 pipeline closed since August after the G7 group of advanced economic nations in early September agreed an price cap on Russian oil and moved to bar insurance for tankers or shipping companies helping Moscow to sell supplies above the cap

A painting showing the Nord Stream pipelines is displayed on a container near the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline in Lubmin, Germany, July 20, 2022

A painting showing the Nord Stream pipelines is displayed on a container near the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline in Lubmin, Germany, July 20, 2022

Morning light falls on the landfall facility of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL gas pipeline, the Baltic Sea Pipeline Link, in Lubmin, Germany, July 21, 2022

Morning light falls on the landfall facility of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL gas pipeline, the Baltic Sea Pipeline Link, in Lubmin, Germany, July 21, 2022

Danish authorities have asked that the country’s level of preparedness for the power and gas sector be raised after the leaks.

The raised level would mean that companies in the power and gas sector have to implement measures to increase safety at for example plants, buildings and installations.

Ships can lose buoyancy if they enter the area affected by the leaks, and there may be a risk of an ignition over the water and in the air, the Danish energy agency warned.

It said the gas leak would only affect the environment locally, which means that only the area where the gas plume in the water column is located would be affected.

A spokesperson from Energinet, Denmark’s national electricity and natural gas operator, confirmed that precautionary measures would include increased surveillance of pipelines and and security measures, but declined to give specifics.

(From L to R) Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Polish President Andrzej Duda shake hands after turning a valve to symbolically open the new Baltic Pipe natural gas pipeline on September 27, 2022

(From L to R) Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Polish President Andrzej Duda shake hands after turning a valve to symbolically open the new Baltic Pipe natural gas pipeline on September 27, 2022

A view of the installation of the gas compressor station 'Goleniow', before the ceremonial opening of the 'Baltic Pipe' gas pipeline on the premises of the gas compressor station in the vicinity of Budno near Goleniow, Poland, 27 September 2022

A view of the installation of the gas compressor station ‘Goleniow’, before the ceremonial opening of the ‘Baltic Pipe’ gas pipeline on the premises of the gas compressor station in the vicinity of Budno near Goleniow, Poland, 27 September 2022

Meanwhile, a new subsea pipeline delivering Norwegian gas to Poland and neighbouring countries with an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic metres per day was inaugurated today.

The Baltic Pipe is seen as a key element in the diversification away from Russian energy sources for Poland and other European and Nordic nations, and was completed ahead of schedule in light of the impending energy crisis. 

The European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson said: ‘The Baltic Pipe is a key project for the security of supply of the region and the result of an EU policy drive to diversify sources of gas. The pipeline will play a valuable role in mitigating the current energy crisis.’

At a ceremony in western Poland, Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland said the project was ‘a milestone on the important path towards European independence from Russian energy.’ 

And Polish President Andrzej Duda called the new pipeline ‘a Polish dream’, which Prime Minister Morawiecki said showed that ‘the era of Russian gas dominance is ending’.

MailOnline has contacted representatives of the Baltic Pipe project for comment.  

Putin squirms in his seat as Belarus dictator Lukashenko rants about men ‘running away’ from mobilisation in Russia as huge traffic jams on Georgia border are captured in images from SPACE 

By WILL STEWART and DAVID AVERRE for MAILONLINE 

This is the moment an uncomfortable-looking Vladimir Putin squirmed in his seat as he was forced to endure a bizarre lecture on people fleeing his rule from fellow autocrat Alexander Lukashenko.

The Belarusian president – who needed Putin’s help to crush a pro-Western democratic movement in his country in 2020 – assured the Kremlin leader he would win his war in Ukraine, despite the growing unrest over his decision to mobilise 300,000 new troops.

The Kremlin chief looked hunched and uncomfortable, saying little during the meeting in Sochi as Russians continue to protest his mobilisation edict or flee abroad to avoid being drafted. 

‘Our course is right, our cause is right,’ Lukashenko told Putin, bringing a rare smile to the Russian warmonger’s lips.

‘We will win. We have no other choice. We, as Slavs, would not tolerate humiliation,’ Lukashenko told him.

The Belarusian leaders bombastic speech belied the situation on the ground though. 

The call for mobilisation has proved wildly unpopular, with hundreds of thousands of Russian men having already fled the country to avoid the call up. 

Outbound flights from Russia are completely sold out, and traffic jams leading to Russia’s borders are so big they can be seen from space.

Anti-war protests have erupted across the country, and Russian media reported an increasing number of arson attacks on military enlistment offices. Yesterday, an enlistment officer was shot at almost point blank range by a man who refused to be drafted.

Alexander Lukashenko (R) shakes hands with Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Sochi, Russia

Alexander Lukashenko (R) shakes hands with Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Sochi, Russia

Belarusian president Lukashenko (L) - who needed Putin's help to crush a pro-Western democratic movement in his country in 2020 - assured the Kremlin leader he would win his war in Ukraine

Belarusian president Lukashenko (L) – who needed Putin’s help to crush a pro-Western democratic movement in his country in 2020 – assured the Kremlin leader he would win his war in Ukraine

A satellite image shows trucks and cars waiting in a traffic jam near Russia's border with Georgia as Russians desperately try to flee the country, September 25, 2022

A satellite image shows trucks and cars waiting in a traffic jam near Russia’s border with Georgia as Russians desperately try to flee the country, September 25, 2022

The call for mobilisation has proved wildly unpopular, with hundreds of thousands of Russian men having already fled the country to avoid the call up. Pictured: A satellite image of traffic jams near Russia's border with Georgia

The call for mobilisation has proved wildly unpopular, with hundreds of thousands of Russian men having already fled the country to avoid the call up. Pictured: A satellite image of traffic jams near Russia’s border with Georgia

A satellite image shows traffic at the Khyagt border post on Russia's border with Mongolia, September 23, 2022

A satellite image shows traffic at the Khyagt border post on Russia’s border with Mongolia, September 23, 2022

Queues of traffic have been growing on Russia's borders with neighbouring countries. This satellite image shows traffic at the Khyagt border post on Russia's border with Mongolia on September 23

Queues of traffic have been growing on Russia’s borders with neighbouring countries. This satellite image shows traffic at the Khyagt border post on Russia’s border with Mongolia on September 23

A group of Russian men walk with their bicycles after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Long lines of vehicles have formed at a border crossing between Russia's North Ossetia region and Georgia after Moscow announced a partial military mobilisation

A group of Russian men walk with their bicycles after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Long lines of vehicles have formed at a border crossing between Russia’s North Ossetia region and Georgia after Moscow announced a partial military mobilisation

A group of Russians walk after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022

 A group of Russians walk after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022

Lukashenko continued monologuing in Sochi yesterday, spouting rhetorical questions as Putin sat silently, squirming uncomfortably beside him.

‘Let’s say 30,000 or 50,000 [people] run away. If they were to stay, would they be our people?’ the Belarusian president said.

‘Let them run away. I don’t know what you think about it, but I wasn’t worried too much in 2020 when people left [Belarus after protests over his vote-rigging].

‘They [later] ask to let them in. So these ones will also come back.

‘But there’s a decision needed: what to do with them? Let them come back or stay there?’

While Lukashenko and Putin shared a chat in Sochi yesterday, a young conscript shot a Russian military officer at close range at an enlistment office in an unusually bold attack reflecting resistance to mobilisation efforts.

The shooting came after scattered arson attacks on enlistment offices and protests in Russian cities against the military call up that have resulted in at least 2,000 arrests. 

In the attack in the Siberian city of Ust-Ilimsk, 25-year-old resident Ruslan Zinin walked into the enlistment office saying ‘no one will go to fight’ and ‘we will all go home now,’ according to local media.

A witness quoted by a local news site said Zinin was in a roomful of people called up to fight and troops from his region were heading to military bases on Tuesday. 

Footage of the incident showed how Zinin strode into the office and blasted the official before being arrested and forced to testify to the crime on camera, which he did willingly.

Authorities said the military commandant was in intensive care.

Protests also flared up in Dagestan, one of Russia’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus. 

Russian military commissar is shot at point-blank

Gunman turns his rifle on other conscripts

This is the moment gunman Ruslan Zinin, 25 walked into a Russian enlistment office in Ust-Ilimsk and shot military commissar Alexander Eliseev

A man casts his ballot into a mobile ballot box as members of an electoral commission visit patients of a hospital during a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine September 27, 2022

A man casts his ballot into a mobile ballot box as members of an electoral commission visit patients of a hospital during a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine September 27, 2022

A group of Russians walk after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022

A group of Russians walk after crossing the border at Verkhny Lars between Georgia and Russia in Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022

Protests have also erupted across Russia in fury at Putin's decision to begin conscription, with some 2,000 people arrested so far

Protests have also erupted across Russia in fury at Putin’s decision to begin conscription, with some 2,000 people arrested so far

Local media reported that ‘several hundred’ demonstrators took to the streets Tuesday in its capital, Makhachkala. 

Videos circulated online showing dozens of protesters tussling with the police sent to disperse them.

Demonstrations also continued in another of Russia’s North Caucasus republics, Kabardino-Balkaria, where videos on social media showed a local official attempting to address a crowd of women who banded together to chant ‘No to war!’

Concerns are growing that Russia may seek to escalate the conflict – including potentially using nuclear weapons – once it completes what Ukraine and the West see as illegal referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine.

The voting, in which residents are asked whether they want their regions to become part of Russia, began last week and ends Tuesday, under conditions that are anything but free or fair. 

Tens of thousands of residents had already fled the regions amid months of fighting, and images shared by those who remained showed armed Russian troops going door-to-door to pressure Ukrainians into voting.

‘Every night and day there is inevitable shelling in the Donbas, under the roar of which people are forced to vote for Russian ”peace”,’ Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said Monday.

Russia is widely expected to declare the results in its favour, a step that could see Moscow annex the four regions and then defend them as its own territory.

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