Russia could declare the annexation of 15% of Ukraine on Friday at the end of Moscow-backed “referendums”, according to British officials.
Polls – dismissed as a sham by the West – close today in four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin will address both houses of Russia’s parliament on Friday when he can formally declare annexation, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.
All in all, Russia would annex at least 90,000 km2 of Ukrainian territory – an area the size of Hungary or Portugal.
Moscow annexation polls announced last week for people living in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, located in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Western powers, along with Kyiv, said they would not recognize ‘referendum’ result amid residents’ grievances forced to vote.
How quickly annexation could happen – a timeline
At the end of the “referendums” – which should favor membership in Russia – closed on Tuesday, the leaders of each region could make official requests for annexation to the Kremlin.
A law officially recognizing the four regions as Russian territory could be submitted to the Russian parliament on Tuesday evening, according to local media, which report that the bill could be passed by Wednesday.
It would then go through the Federation Council – often seen as a formality and which could be completed by Wednesday or Thursday.
Putin is expected to make an official annexation announcement by the end of the week.
TASS, a state-run Russian news agency, reported that senators were told to prepare for an “important event” on Friday.
He said politicians were required to take three COVID tests beforehand, a health measure people meeting Putin must take, according to AFP.
However, Putin’s announcement could come sooner.
In 2014, he signed a bill recognizing Crimea as part of Russia two days after Moscow’s “referendum” and before a parliament vote.
What does annexation mean for the war?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly warned that “pseudo-referendums” on annexation by Russia would destroy any chance of peace talks.
Some fear that by formally annexing Ukrainian territories, Putin is giving himself the potential pretext of using nuclear weapons.
Russia’s nuclear doctrine authorizes the use of such weapons if weapons of mass destruction are used against its territory or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.
British officials say annexation could shore up support for the war among the Russian public.
“Russian leaders almost certainly hope that any announcement of membership will be seen as vindication of the ‘special military operation’ and solidify patriotic support for the conflict,” a spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.
“This aspiration will likely be undermined by growing domestic awareness of Russia’s recent battleground [setbacks] and great discomfort with the partial mobilization announced last week.