Russia confirmed on Thursday that it will formally annex four regions of Ukraine, amounting to 15% of the war-torn neighboring country, after declaring victory in Kremlin-backed sham referendums.
Moscow-installed administrations in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine claimed Tuesday night that 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a ceremony on Friday in the Kremlin where the four regions will be officially folded into Russia, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
On Moscow’s Red Square, a stage with giant video screens has been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!”
Peskov said the pro-Moscow administrators of the regions will sign treaties to join Russia during the ceremony at the Kremlin’s St. George’s Hall.
The head of the upper house of the Russian parliament said it could consider the incorporation of the four partially occupied regions on Oct. 4, three days before Putin’s 70th birthday.
To annex the territories, which represent about 15% of Ukraine, some sort of treaty will need to be struck and ratified by the Russian parliament, which is controlled by Putin allies. The areas will then be seen as part of Russia and its nuclear umbrella will extend to them.
Putin has warned he would use nuclear weapons to protect Russian territory from attack.
Residents who escaped to Ukrainian-held areas in recent days have claimed people are being forced to mark ballots in the street by roving officials at gunpoint. Footage filmed during the exercise showed Russian-installed officials taking ballot boxes from house to house with armed men in tow.
“They can announce anything they want. Nobody voted in the referendum except a few people who switched sides. They went from house to house but nobody came out,” said Lyubomir Boyko, 43, from Golo Pristan, a village in Russian-occupied Kherson province.
Russia says voting was voluntary, in line with international law, and that turnout was high. (NYPost)