Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it would be “up to the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, and that any move to annex territory would would have to be closely evaluated by experts to make sure its legal basis is “absolutely clear.”

Ukraine shut down a pipeline Wednesday that carries Russian natural gas to homes and industries in Western Europe, while a Kremlin-installed official in a southern region seized by Russian troops said the area will ask Moscow to annex it, AP reports.

The immediate effect of the energy cutoff is likely to be limited, in part because Russia can divert the gas to another pipeline and because Europe relies on a variety of suppliers. But it marked the first time since the start of the war that Ukraine disrupted the flow westward of one of Moscow’s most lucrative exports.

Meanwhile, the talk of annexation in Kherson — and Russia’s apparent willingness to consider such a request — raised the possibility that the Kremlin will seek to break off another piece of Ukraine as it tries to salvage an invasion gone awry. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Kherson regional administration installed by Moscow, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. He said regional officials want Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a “proper region” of Russia.

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