Published On: Fri, Sep 30th, 2022

Putin to annex Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia

Russian President Vladimir Putin will claim to annex four regions of Ukraine on Friday, the biggest territorial takeover in postwar Europe following referendums widely considered to be rigged.

A “grand ascension” ceremony at the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace will see Russia claim political control over 15% of Ukraine, the continent’s largest country. Moscow will then celebrate the acquisition of the four regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — with a pop concert on the city’s iconic Red Square.

The United States, Ukraine and others have condemned this as an illegal land-grab, promising to retaliate with sanctions.

Kyiv has vowed to keep fighting to retake its occupied land, and on Friday appeared on the verge of handing Russia’s military another significant setback. The annexation was also likely to be overshadowed by a deadly attack on a civilian convoy in Ukraine’s south.

Western governments, officials and experts have openly regretted not responding with tougher measures when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

Today, Russia says it’s merely answering a democratic decision by people living in eastern and southern Ukraine — a claim few in the West take seriously. Instead, the move is seen by many experts as a wider escalation by Putin after a series of punishing battlefield defeats at the hands of a lightning counteroffensive by Kyiv.

As well as announcing the annexation, Putin has called up military reservists — prompting a mass exodus of Russians fleeing the draft — and ramped up his nuclear threats against Ukraine and the West.

As more territory slips from Putin’s grasp, attempting to annex these four regions is seen by many as a desperate attempt to regain control, the embattled Russian leader even suggesting he would use his nuclear arsenal to defend the territory.

In an address on the eve of the ascension ceremony Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Russians directly.

The annexation “can still be stopped,” Zelenskyy said. “But to stop it we have to stop that person in Russia who wants war more than life — your lives, citizens of Russia.”

President Joe Biden says he will never recognize the results, which he said Thursday were “a sham, an absolute sham.” Antonio Guterres, director-general of the United Nations, called it a “dangerous escalation” and a violation of the U.N. charter.

“All options remain on the table when it comes to imposing costs on Russia,” deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told a briefing Thursday.

The ascension ceremony is due to start at 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET), with Putin scheduled to give a speech and meet the four pro-Russia leaders of the annexed regions. It is not clear whether he will attend the pop concert, as he did after Crimea’s annexation.

A stage has been set up with giant video screens and billboards proclaiming the four areas part of Russia.

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