STORY: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing the U.N. General Assembly and the world's media in New York, attempted to justify Russia's February invasion of its neighbor, repeating Moscow's false claims that the elected government in Kyiv was illegitimately installed, filled with Neo-Nazis and oppressed Russian speakers in the country's east.
Russia on Friday (September 23) launched referendums in four eastern Ukrainian regions aimed at annexing territory it has taken by force. Kyiv said residents were being coerced into voting and were not allowed to leave the regions during the four-day vote, which Western nations dismissed as a sham.
"Following those referendums, Russia of course will respect the expression of the will of those people who for many long years have been suffering from the abuses of the Neo-Nazi regime," Lavrov said at a news conference after he addressed the assembly.
Asked if Russia would have grounds for using nuclear weapons to defend annexed regions of Ukraine, Lavrov said Russian territory, including territory "further enshrined" in Russia's constitution in the future, "is under the full protection of the state."
"All of the laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply to all of its territory," he said, also referring specifically to Russia's doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons.