Russia positioned itself Wednesday to announce the annexation of four occupied areas of Ukraine where 'sham' referenda - denounced as being unlawful by the West - had been held.
In Moscow's Red Square, a tribune 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 these territories' annexation within days. Since last week, he has also enforced a partial mobilisation, with 300,000 reservists called up to fight, and has threatened to defend Russia's territory with nuclear weapons if needs be.
The occupied southern and eastern regions of Ukraine which Moscow is eyeing had been subjected to five days of voting, with armed troops reportedly going door-to-door with election officials to collect ballots. The suspiciously high margins in favour were perceived as a land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership after embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.
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.
Pro-Russia officials in the four regions said they would ask Putin to incorporate their provinces into Russia on the basis of announced vote results. The Kremlin-backed leaders Leonid Pasechnik in Luhansk and Denis Pushilin in Donetsk said they were leaving for Moscow to settle the annexation formalities.
In an interview with AP, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was determined to reclaim all the territory that Russia has seized during the war. Mykhailo Podolyak said the annexation by Russia would change nothing 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 stated.
The Kremlin, on the other hand, has remained unmoved amid the hail of criticism and condemnation over the rigged referenda - including a new EU sanction package proposition. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that at the very least, Russia intended to drive Ukrainian forces out of the Donetsk region, where Moscow’s troops and pro-Russian forces currently control about 60% of the territory.