1. EU proposes 'biting' sanctions on Russia over 'sham' referendum results
Ukraine and its western allies have slammed Russian-led referendums to annex parts of Ukraine as "illegitimate" and a "sham".
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc should impose “biting sanctions” on Russian officials and the country's trade sector.
Pro-Russian officials in four regions of southeastern Ukraine declared on Tuesday that voters had chosen to join Russia. Widely-circulated images on social media showed armed soldiers moving door-to-door to enforce the vote.
Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia together make up around 15% of Ukrainian territory -- roughly the same size as Portugal.
Von der Leyen labelled the votes as "an illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force."
“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said on Wednesday. “We propose sweeping new import bans on Russian products.”
Russian banks, companies and markets have been hit under the proposed new sanctions — including in the sensitive energy sector — with asset freezes and travel bans slapped on over 1,200 officials.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has denounced the annexation "referendums" as "illegal" polls with "manipulated".
"Fictitious referendums. Fictitious results. We do not recognise them," added European Council President Charles Michel.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also denounced the "sham referendums" as "a new escalation of Putin's war".
Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russian-staged votes were "null and worthless", and that it would press on with its war efforts.
"Forcing people in these territories to fill out some papers at the barrel of a gun is yet another Russian crime in the course of its aggression against Ukraine," the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Moscow's attempts to create new separation lines or weaken international support for Ukraine are doomed to fail," it added.
Kyiv has also called on its international partners to provide Ukraine with more military aid.
The West's financial sanctions on Moscow are already the most severe imposed against a large economy in modern history.
The United States and Canada were also preparing a new round of measures against Russia, on top of a $1.1 billion (€1.15 billion) US arms package.
2. 'Nothing to talk about with this president of Russia,' says Zelenskyy
Ukraine has repeatedly warned that the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territories would destroy any chance of peace talks, seven months after the war began.
The votes mirrored a referendum in Crimea after Russia seized the southern peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
"This farce in the occupied territories cannot even be called an imitation of a referendum," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Tuesday.
In an earlier address to the UN Security Council, Zelenskyy described the votes as a "modern world crime".
“Any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that consider the inviolability of border to be vital for themselves,” Zelenskyy said.
"There is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia," he added.
Kyiv has stated that Ukrainians who helped organise the referendums would face treason charges and at least five years in jail.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had reported that Moscow was ready to resume negotiations with Ukraine with “new conditions” for a ceasefire.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the referendums now complicate efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Following the annexation votes, Moscow again used the threat of nuclear weapons to defend the "territorial integrity" of Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will never abandon the residents of these areas and is likely to admit the regions into the country.
And Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, told Tuesday's meeting that the referendums were conducted transparently and in line with electoral norms.
The next step for annexation is for the Russian parliament to vote on a treaty "in the coming days" to formally integrate the four regions into Russian territory.
Valentina Matviyenko, head of the upper house of the Russian parliament, said that it could consider thematter on October 4, three days before Putin celebrates his 70th birthday.
3. EU suspects 'sabotage' over Nord Stream leaks in Baltic Sea
The European Union has warned against any attack on its energy infrastructure after three leaks were reported on Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had suggested that the incidents were "an act of sabotage".
Swedish seismologists have stated that the unusual gas leaks from the pipelines were caused by explosions and not earthquakes or natural landslides.
"Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response," Borrell said on Wednesday.
"All available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act," he stressed.
"We will support any investigation to get to the bottom of what happened and why, and we will take further steps to increase our energy security resilience."
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has also expressed concern about the leaks on the two pipelines and discussed the matter with Danish Defence Minister Morten Bødskov on Wednesday.
The damage to the two Nord Stream pipelines came on the same day as the inauguration of the new Baltic Pipe between Norway and Poland, which will reduce Europeans' dependence on Russian gas.
There is reason to be concerned about the security situation in the Baltic Sea region," Bødskov warned in a statement.
According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the US Central Intelligence Agency had warned Germany about possible attacks on gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea weeks ago.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed speculation that Russia could be behind the damage and said such allegations were “predictable and stupid.”
Gas prices have risen on fears that the Russian state-owned company Gazprom said could halt supplies to Europe through Ukraine.
4. Russian reservists to begin training amid measures to halt exodus
Russia's Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that newly mobilised reservists had begun combat training.
The call-ups have reportedly started exercises in Rostov, near the Ukrainian border, Kaliningrad, and on the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
Russia already has a significant military presence in Kaliningrad -- an enclave between Poland and Lithuania -- including nuclear-capable missiles, its Baltic fleet and tens of thousands of soldiers.
The ministry said on Telegram that all personnel had already been "provided with the necessary clothing, received weapons and started firing training".
But the Institute for the Study of War has said that men being mobilised to enforce Russian lines in Ukraine are apparently receiving no training.
President Putin last week ordered Russia's first "partial" military mobilisation since World War II, which could 300,000 more people sent to fight in Ukraine.
But the order has triggered an exodus of nearly 200,000 men from Russia, fueled anti-war protests and sparked violence at some military recruitment centres.
The European Union’s border agency Frontex says 66,000 Russian citizens entered the bloc from September 19 to September 25, a 30% increase over the preceding week.
Russian officials tried to intercept some of the fleeing reservists on one of the main exodus routes, issuing conscription notices on the Georgian border.
The border region of North Ossetia stated on Wednesday that it would restrict vehicle access except for residents and tourists amid queues of people trying to leave the country.
Moscow has also announced that those mobilised by the military will no longer be issued passports for international travel. Russian citizens can only go to Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan with internal identity cards.
5. Russia aims to 'liberate' all of Donetsk
The Kremlin's spokesperson suggested that Russia would not halt its “special military operation” in Ukraine following the referendums.
In a call with reporters, Peskov noted that pro-Russian forces do not control all of the Donetsk region -- one of the four regions to be annexed.
"Therefore it is necessary, as a minimum, to liberate the entire territory of the Donetsk People's Republic," he said.
The Russian-backed separatist territory has been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Peskov's comments on Wednesday come as Russian troops continued to shell other areas of Ukraine.
Authorities in the southern Ukrainian city of Nikopol say Russian strikes hit at least ten high-rise buildings overnight, as well as a school and some power lines.
Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said there were no immediate casualties reported from the attacks.
In Donetsk, Ukrainian officials also reported that Russian fire had killed five people and wounded ten others over the past 24 hours.
Kyiv's military reported on Tuesday that 20 towns in the Zaporizhzhia region and 35 towns and villages in the Kherson region were also hit.
Meanwhile, the Russian separatist leader of Luhansk said three municipal gas workers were killed and one wounded by Ukrainian shelling in Brianka.
6. Bulgaria, Poland & US urge citizens to leave Russia
The governments of Bulgaria and Poland are urging any citizens that remain in Russia to leave urgently.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry has advised people to not travel to Russian territory or to consider leaving by any " available means of transport".
The Polish Foreign Ministry issued a similar statement, suspending flights to Russia and encouraging citizens to leave the country.
"In case of a drastic deterioration of the security situation, the closure of borders or other unforeseen circumstances, evacuation may prove significantly impeded or even impossible," the ministry said, according to national media.
"We recommend that the citizens of the Republic of Poland who remain on the territory of the Russian Federation leave its territory using the available commercial and private means.”
The warnings may be in anticipation of border crossings becoming much more difficult as routes out close.
Poland's foreign minister Zbigniew Rau has also stated that NATO's response to any Russian use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine should be non-nuclear but “devastating”.
The US Embassy in Moscow has also issued a security alert that urged citizens to leave Russia immediately.
The embassy also advised US nationals “avoid all political or social protests and do not photograph security personnel at these events,” noting that “the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression is not guaranteed in Russia.”