MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia wanted to "save people" in four Moscow-controlled territories in Ukraine, on the last day of annexation votes denounced as a sham by Western leaders, reports AFP.
If the regions vote to join Russia, Moscow will claim sovereignty over about 20 percent of Ukraine, including Crimea, which was annexed in 2014.
The annexation polls organised by Kremlin-installed authorities in four regions of Ukraine mostly controlled by Russian forces are due to close Tuesday.
Observers say the recent counter-offensive, which saw important successes for the Ukrainian army, pushed Putin to rush ahead with the votes to cement Russia's authority in the occupied territories.
The vote will have security implications, the Kremlin warned Tuesday, as Moscow threatened to use nuclear weapons and all available means to defend its territory.
Kyiv and its allies said that the West would never recognise the results of the ballot, denounced as a sham.
Elected officials brought ballots door-to-door, in many cases accompanied by armed Russian forces. Results are expected between Tuesday evening and later this week. Putin is expected on Friday to formally declare the Ukrainian regions becoming part of Russia, according to Russian news agencies.
"This is a completely unprecedented situation that requires urgent investigation. We are extremely concerned about this news," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Asked by reporters whether it could be an act of sabotage, Peskov said: "it is impossible to exclude any options".
"Obviously there is some kind of damage to the pipe, as for what caused it -- before there are results of the investigations, no option can be ruled out," he added.
Scandinavian authorities said on Tuesday that two leaks had been identified on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in the Baltic Sea -- one in the Danish economic zone and the other in Sweden's -- hours after a drop in pressure was reported on Nord Stream 2.
Built in parallel to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Nord Stream 2 was intended to double the capacity for Russian gas imports to Germany.
But Berlin blocked newly completed Nord Stream 2 in the days before Russia sent troops to pro-Western Ukraine.