US President Joe Biden says Washington will “never recognize” the referendums in the Donbass republics and two other regions in Ukraine.
Biden threatened that the US and its allies will seek to impose “severe economic costs” on Russia over the votes.
Voting is underway in several regions of Ukraine for the second day of a referendum where residents will decide whether they want to join the Russian Federation.
Moscow began the referendum on Friday in the eastern areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
Russian news agencies said the turnout on the first day was between 15 and 24 percent, depending on the region.
Election officials, accompanied by police officers, carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations due to safety reasons. Voting will wrap up on Tuesday.
Biden on Friday condemned the referendums on joining Russia as “a sham.”
They are “a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter,” his statement read.
The US president vowed to “work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia.”
He added that the US would “continue to support the Ukrainian people and provide them with security assistance” to fight off Russian troops.
The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow intends to incorporate the regions into the Russian Federation. Asked how long the recognition process would take, Peskov said he was “convinced that it will be quick enough.”
Polling stations were also set up in Moscow for residents of those regions currently living in Russia.
The referendum was organized after Kiev recaptured large parts in the northeast in a counteroffensive earlier this month.
President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will heed the will of the residents. The referendum follows his order of a partial military mobilization, which could add as many as 300,000 Russian conscripts to the battlefield in Ukraine.
In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has censured the West for its “grotesque” fear of Russia.
Lavrov also defended a referendum in Ukraine’s eastern areas, asking residents if they want to join the Russian Federation. He said people in those areas are claiming land “where their ancestors have been living for hundreds of years.”
“The West is now throwing a fit” on the referendum, he said.
The United States and its Western allies have threatened to impose additional sanctions on Russia. President Joe Biden has labeled the voting “a sham – a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law.”