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A senior State Department official on Tuesday called the planned referendums in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine an “incredibly crass and desperate move” by President Vladimir Putin, but declined to go into details about how the US will respond if they move forward.
Russian-backed officials in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson announced they will hold votes this week on joining Russia. The US has warned for months of "sham" referendums that Putin would use to justify seizing Ukrainian territory.
If they go ahead, the US has made clear there will be "increased consequences,” the official said.
“We have, as you know, a number of tools. You've seen us use them over the last months, and our allies and partners are ready to join us. But I'm not going to telegraph specifically,” the official said.
The official reiterated that the referendums won't change the status of Ukraine and recognition of its territorial and sovereign boundaries.
“I think it really does speak to the pressure that the Ukrainians are bringing at this moment with very, very strong US and allied support,” the official said.
Rockets hit multi-story residential buildings in the Kholodnogorsk district of Kharkiv overnight on Wednesday, Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a Telegram post.
Information on casualties is still being gathered, Terekhov said.
The mayor added that responders were working to rescue several people who were trapped at one location.
CNN's team in Kharkiv heard several loud explosions at around 1:52 a.m. local time.
The US has been in conversation with India about the country moving away from its reliance on Russia for weaponry and energy, a US senior State Department official said Tuesday.
And the sense is that Indian officials are "coming to understand that there could be real benefits for them,” the official said.
“India is heavily, heavily dependent on Russia, and that's something that they did to themselves over some 40 years, first their military and then their energy dependence,” the official told reporters. “So we have been in deep conversation with India about the fact that we want to help them have options to diversify here.”
The official noted that Russia was no longer a reliable weapons supplier.
“On the energy side, as you know, we want to keep Russian oil on the market, but we want everybody whether they join the price cap idea formally, or whether they're just in their own negotiations with Russia, to pay … a price that does not fuel or overly fuel Putin's war machine,” the official said.
The US diplomatic push follows remarks last week by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in a striking rebuke told Russian President Vladimir Putin that "today's era is not of war."
The senior State Department official suggested that atrocities like those uncovered in Izium were driving countries away from tacitly supporting Russia.
“I think the horrendous behavior of Russian forces, the atrocities that we're seeing, the fact that in Izium, again, some 500 bodies in a mass grave, women, children, soldiers shot in the head, is again horrifying the world and people don't want to be too close,” the official said.
Russia is not expected to attend the UN Security Council meeting on Ukrainian sovereignty that is scheduled for Thursday, according to a senior State Department official.
“It does not seem that the Russian Foreign Minister will be there,” the official said. “My understanding is that Russia will not be represented.”
As of last week, US officials had said they thought Russia would attend.
The meeting was expected to be the single event where US and Russian diplomats were going to be in the same room.
“We understand that foreign ministers from all P5 countries are likely to attend as well as the Foreign Minister of Ukraine," said Assistant Secretary Michele Sison when previewing the security council meeting as part of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's schedule.
The senior State Department official declined to say if Russia was boycotting the meeting, referring questions to the Russian delegation. But the official said “that’s right” when asked if Russia won’t be present because they do not want to be there.
“It’s not entirely surprising that they are not going to be represented at a meeting that is on Ukrainian sovereignty and Russian accountability,” the official said, noting that the US knows which countries have accepted the invitation to be there.
CNN has reached out to the Russian UN Mission for comment.
It is also unclear if China is going to attend the meeting.
“We will have more on that over the next couple of days,” the official said.
There were several large explosions in the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine early Wednesday.
As air raid sirens wailed, CNN's team on the ground heard 6-7 "large explosions."
It's been just over two weeks since Ukraine launched a counter-offensive in the northeast Kharkiv region that allowed Kyiv to recapture thousands of square miles of territory that had been occupied by Russia for months.
The explosions happened at about 1:52 a.m. local time.
Referendums in Russian-occupied territories will have no effect on the actions of the Ukrainian army, and its counteroffensive and the liberation of the occupied territories will continue, Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser, told CNN on Tuesday.
"The actions of our army are exclusively defensive in nature, they are legal and legitimate. International law is unambiguous and undeniable: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia region, Kherson and Crimea are the territory of Ukraine. Our partners also proceed from this basic principle," Podolyak said to CNN.
According to Podolyak, any Russian-organized referendums on Ukrainian territory would be "absolutely meaningless."
The proposed referendums are a reaction to defeats of the Russian army and the loss of Putin's influence, Podolyak said, adding that "active hostilities are taking place in these territories" and that "there is no possibility for any other actions except for the blockade to be lifted by military means."
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned planned referendums by Russian-backed authorities in Ukraine, calling them a "violation of international law" and a further escalation of the war.
"Canada denounces Russia’s planned 'referendums' in occupied regions of Ukraine. We will never recognize them. This is a blatant violation of international law. It is a further escalation of war. And it is unacceptable," Trudeau said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Trudeau's comments come as Russia and multiple Kremlin-backed authorities in eastern and southern Ukraine have announced that referendums on joining Russia would be held this week. Ukraine has dismissed the moves as a “sham” stemming from the ��fear of defeat.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday called for an extension of the deal to allow Ukrainian grain to transit through the Black Sea, which is due to expire in mid-November.
Blinken noted that the agreement between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by the UN and Turkey, “should never have been necessary in the first place,” but was required after Russia’s war blocked thousands of tons of grain at Ukrainian ports. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently suggested he could pull out of the agreement.
“It needs to keep going, it needs to be renewed, that is urgent,” Blinken said at a Global Food Security Summit held during the UN General Assembly high level week.
"As you heard from some of my colleagues, despite some of the misinformation that continues to come from Moscow, that grain and other food products are getting where they need to go, to the countries most in need, predominantly in the Global South,” Blinken said.
The top US diplomat called on countries to do more to respond to the food insecurity crisis, noting that “action is crucial.”
“Some countries with the capacity to do more are among those doing the least. That needs to change,” Blinken said, without naming names. “And no matter what countries have done so far, every country is called upon to do more.”
He said President Joe Biden would be announcing new assistance from the US on Wednesday.
Blinken also called for a strengthening of global food systems to increase the ability of countries to respond to shocks and the effects of the climate crisis. He said the US government will work with Congress over the next five years to invest over $11 billion toward this aim.