Russia positioned itself on Wednesday to announce the annexation of four occupied areas of Ukraine where “fictitious” referendums – denounced as illegal by the West – had taken place.
In Moscow’s Red Square, a grandstand with giant video screens has been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to proclaim the annexation of these territories in a few days. Since last week, he has also imposed a partial mobilization, with 300,000 reservists called up for combat, and threatened to defend Russian territory with nuclear weapons if need be.
The occupied regions of southern and eastern Ukraine that Moscow is monitoring have been subjected to five days of voting, with armed troops reportedly going door to door with election officials to collect ballots. The oddly high margins in favor were seen as a land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership after embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.
Moscow-based administrations in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine said on Tuesday evening that 93% of the votes cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk. .
Pro-Russian officials from the four regions said they would ask Putin to incorporate their provinces into Russia based on the announced vote results. Kremlin-backed leaders Leonid Pasechnik in Luhansk and Denis Pushilin in Donetsk said they were leaving for Moscow to settle annexation formalities.
In an interview with AP, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was determined to reclaim all the territory Russia seized during the war. Mykhailo Podolyak said annexation by Russia would not change anything on the battlefield.
“Our actions depend not so much on what the Russian Federation thinks or wants, but on the military capabilities that Ukraine has,” he said.
The Kremlin, by contrast, remained unmoved by the hail of criticism and condemnation over the rigged referendums – including a new proposed EU sanctions package. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that at the very least Russia intended to drive Ukrainian forces out of the Donetsk region, where Moscow troops and pro-Russian forces currently control around 60% of the territory .