UPDATED: EU crisis response meeting to discuss developments in Russia

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BRUSSELS, Sept 26 (Reuters) – Ambassadors of European Union member states have been invited to a meeting of the bloc’s crisis response working group on Monday to discuss concerns about an escalation of the war in Ukraine, an EU official and an EU diplomat said.

The talks will also touch upon the ongoing referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine aimed at annexing territory to Russia, and on how the EU aims to handle scores of Russian men trying to enter the bloc to escape a partial mobilisation ordered last week, the sources said.

Ambassadors are not usually present at meetings of the integrated political crisis response group, which includes officials from the EU’s executive and its diplomatic service.

The closed-door meeting in Brussels was due to start at 10 a.m. (0800 GMT), the sources said.

The referendums in four eastern Ukrainian regions, which Kyiv and the West regard as a sham, entered a fourth day on Monday, after the United States warned of “catastrophic consequences” if Moscow used nuclear weapons to protect any annexed regions.

The warning followed Wednesday’s thinly veiled nuclear threat by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Moscow would use any weapons to defend its territory.

Russian forces control territory in the four eastern Ukrainian regions, which represent about 15% of Ukraine and are roughly the size of Portugal.

It would add to Crimea, an area nearly the size of Belgium, which Russia claims to have annexed in 2014.

Russia’s parliament could move to formalise the annexations within days.

By incorporating the areas of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into Russia, Moscow could portray efforts to retake them as attacks on Russia itself.

Reporting by John Chalmers and Sabine Siebold, editing by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Jason Neely

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