US President Joe Biden says US will never recognise annexation as UN investigators find evidence of war crimes

US President Joe Biden has said Russian referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine are a sham and that Washington “will never recognise Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine”.

The voting on whether Russia should annex these parts of Ukraine into its own territory opened on Friday, dramatically raising the stakes of Moscow’s seven-month invasion.

The votes in the four regions are the latest shock development in a ferocious war that UN investigators said had seen violence — like executions and torture — that amounted to war crimes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the referendums as a “farce”, while Kyiv’s allies likewise condemned the vote at the UN General Assembly as an illegitimate precursor to illegal annexation.

In a statement, Mr Biden said if the region is annexed by Russia, Washington “will work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia”.

The White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the referendum a breach of the United Nations charter.

A woman signs a ballot paper as other sort through papers in a room.
Voting will run from Friday to Tuesday in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Russia’s attack on Ukraine was “an attack on all smaller countries”.

“It is an assertion that a larger country is entitled to subjugate a smaller country. To decide whether another country can even exist,” Ms Wong said.

“It was never intended that the security council veto power would be used to enable uncheck abuse of the UN charter.”

Even China, Russia’s closest ally since the war began, has acknowledged that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comments to his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba at the UN.

‘Door-to-door’ voting

On Friday, authorities in the Russian-controlled regions began going door-to-door to collect votes, according to state media.

“In-person voting will take place exclusively on September 27,” TASS media reported.

“On the other days, voting will be organised in communities and in a door-to-door manner for security reasons.”

A woman places a ballot paper into a box from her car window.
A woman places a ballot paper into a box from her car window.(AFP)

It was also possible to vote at the building in Moscow that represents the Donetsk breakaway region.

There are no independent observers, and much of the pre-war population has fled.

One local resident in Enerhodar told the BBC: “You have to answer verbally and the soldier marks the answer on the sheet and keeps it.”

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