Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday the local elections in four Russian-annexed Ukrainian regions earlier this month were conducted “in full accordance with international norms” and that the residents there chose to be part of Russia.
Putin made his comments in an address marking the first anniversary of the annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions in the east of the country.
Putin referenced Russia’s Central Election Commission claiming that the country’s ruling party won the most votes.
Ukraine has denounced both the referendum votes carried out last year and the recent ballots as a sham for Russia’s tightening grip on the territories illegally annexed a year ago.
Putin’s address came after Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday it would enlist 130,000 men for compulsory military service beginning Sunday in most regions of the country, including in the annexed regions of Ukraine as part of its twice-yearly military conscription campaign.
The conscripts are at least 18 years old, and Russia says they are not deployed to what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, or to serve in the annexed territories. After one year of service, though, they automatically become reservists, and Russia has previously deployed reservists to Ukraine.
Russia’s lower house of parliament voted last July to raise the maximum age for conscripts from 27 to 30. That legislation will take effect January 1, according to a document posted on the Russian government website on Friday.
Putin said this month he is bracing for a long war with Ukraine as Russia’s armed forces press on with their “special military operation” there, now in its 20th month.
Russia announced the proposal last year to increase its professional and conscripted combat force by more than 30% to 1.5 million, a plan made more difficult by its heavy casualties in Ukraine.
Ukraine says it downs drones
Five people were wounded Saturday in two missile strikes on the village of Matviivka, in the northeastern part of the Ukrainian-controlled regional capital Zaporizhzhia, its Governor Yurii Malashko said.
Ukrainian air defenses shot down 30 out of 40 Iranian-made kamikaze drones aimed at the Odesa, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia provinces overnight, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.
Vinnytsia regional Governor Serhii Borzov said that air defenses shot down 20 drones over his central Ukrainian region but that a fire broke out in the town of Kalynivka when a drone struck an unspecified infrastructure facility.
In Romania, army radars detected a possible breach of national airspace during an overnight Russian drone attack against neighboring Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, the defense ministry said Saturday.
After quitting the Black Sea grain deal in mid-July, Russia began targeting Ukrainian ports and warehouses on the Danube River, Kyiv’s main alternative export route across from NATO member Romania.
Fragments of possible Russian drones were found on Romanian territory three separate times this month, increasing security risks for NATO, whose members have a mutual defense commitment.
“The Romanian Army’s radar surveillance system identified a possible unauthorized breach of national air space, with a signal detected on the route to the town of Galati,” the defense ministry said, adding search parties had been deployed.
It said searches will continue throughout Saturday.
Putin meets former Wagner chief
Russian officials have released footage of Putin meeting with former Wagner Group Chief of Staff Andrei Troshev and giving Troshev the task of establishing new “volunteer fighting units,” according to the daily intelligence update on Ukraine from the British Defense Ministry.
Saturday’s update said Troshev undertook a role in the Russian security forces about the time of Wagner fighters’ brief June insurrection. It said Troshev was “probably involved” in persuading other Wagner personnel to sign contracts with Russia.
“Many Wagner veterans,” the update said, “likely consider him a traitor.”
Zelenskyy pushes to increase arms
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants to turn Ukraine’s defense industry into a “large military hub” by partnering with Western weapons manufacturers to increase arms supplies for Kyiv’s counteroffensive against Russia.
He made these comments at a forum his government held with executives from weapons producers from more than 30 countries to discuss how to jointly develop industrial capacity to build and repair weapons in Ukraine while living under constant Russian bombardment.
“Ukraine is in such a phase of the defense marathon when it is very important, critical to go forward without retreating. Results from the frontline are needed daily,” Zelenskyy told the representatives from more than 250 Western weapons producers.
He said that air defense and de-mining were his top priorities while he also aims to boost domestic production of missiles, drones, and artillery ammunition.
Some of the executives said they struggle to ramp up their production to meet Ukrainian demand.
Ukrainian officials see the development of domestic defense production as a boost to Ukraine’s economy, which shrunk by about a third last year because of the war.