Massive explosions have rocked Russian bases in the occupied Luhansk Oblast in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Governor of the region has said that a Russian “storage point” and barracks were were hit. Reports have emerged which suggest at least one of the explosions was caused by a HIMARS strike directed by Ukrainian special forces behind enemy lines. A polling station was burned down in an area Russia has occupied since the first day of the invasion. The news comes as Putin doubles down on his invasion mobilising hundreds of thousands of Russians to fight.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai seemed to imply Ukrainian forces or saboteurs were behind the attacks while conflict correspondent Chuck Pfarrer said that Ukrainian special forces and partisans had directed HIMARS strikes on the base. Alchevsk is 36 miles from the frontline.
Mr Haidai said on Twitter: “An explosion took place at a Russian storage point in the Russian-occupied city of Alchevsk, and another one thundered at Russian barracks in Mankivka, both in Luhansk Oblast.”
He added on Telegram that a polling station had been set alight in Shchastia city in Luhansk. Russia captured the city in the heart of Luhansk on the first day of its full scale invasion of Ukraine.
The reports come as Moscow conducts sham referenda to determine if four Ukrainian regions – Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk – will become part of the Russian Federation.
The referenda have been condemned by the West and Ukraine as illegal and illegitimate. The results will almost certainly overwhelmingly favour the regions annexation by Russia.
There have been reports of armed men going to people’s homes to force them to cast a vote and employees have reportedly been told they would be fired from their jobs if they did not participate.
The referenda led the UK to impose a new round of sanctions against Russia. In total, 92 were introduced, with 55 board members and directors from the Russian firms Gazprombank, Sberbank and Sovcombank impacted.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognise their results.
“Today’s sanctions will target those behind these sham votes, as well as the individuals that continue to prop up the Russian regime’s war of aggression.”
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Countries outside of the West have also condemned the vote. Kazakhstan, a close Soviet ally and trading partner with Russia, has said through its foreign ministry that the country will not recognise the outcome of the referenda.
In response to a sweeping Ukrainian counteroffensive, Vladimir Putin has called for the mobilisation of at least 300,000 Russian reservists. However, the call has been met with widespread protests and Russian men attempting to flee the country.
There has been reports of protests in more than 30 cities, likely far more, around Russia. Additionally, several recruitment offices in Russia have been attacked and burned down.
In a gruesome incident highlighting Russian resistance to the draft, a recruitment officer in Irkutsk was seriously wounded after being shot point blank.
The shooter was reportedly upset due to a friend without any military experience being selected for the draft.
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More than 2,000 protesters have been arrested for speaking out against the draft while 17,000 Russians crossed the border with Finland over the weekend.
The tensions within Russia come as Putin’s forces are still facing pressure on the battlefront. There have been reports of gains by Ukrainian forces in Kherson in the south and Donetsk and Luhansk in the east.
It’s unclear how Russia will react to the continuing Ukrainian counteroffensive following the referenda. Putin could attempt to escalate the conflict with nuclear weapons, something which he and his top allies have threatened since the announcement of the mobilisation last Wednesday.
However, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday the United States would respond “decisively” to any Russian use of nuclear weapons, without elaborating.
He said Washington had privately told Moscow “exactly what that would mean”.