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Putin's statements, US warns Russia: Catastrophic consequences if you use nuclear weapons
The United States has warned of "catastrophic consequences" if Moscow were to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, after Russia's foreign minister said regions holding widely criticized referendums would have full protection if annexed by Moscow.
Votes in four eastern Ukrainian regions aimed at annexing territory that Russia has largely taken by force since its invasion in February were held for a third day on Sunday. The Russian parliament could move to formalize the annexation within days.
By including the four oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia in Russia, Moscow could portray efforts to retake them as attacks on Russia itself, a warning to Kiev and its Western allies.
Russian annexations raise the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance as Western weapons are being used by Ukrainian troops.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US would respond firmly to any Russian use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and had told Moscow of the "catastrophic consequences" it would face.
"If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively," Sullivan said.
The warning comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would use any weapon to defend its territory.