Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed an order that will officially, in Russia’s view, annex four Ukrainian regions under the rule of the Russian Federation.
The signing ceremony held at the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow took place just days after referenda concluded in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions which allegedly showed overwhelming support in favor of seceding from Ukraine.
“The people have made their choice,” he began his speech according to a translation by a Financial Times reporter.
“This is the will of millions,” Putin said, declaring residents of the territories Russian citizens.
Russian proxies in the regions claimed to have garnered 87% of civilian support in Kherson, 93% in Zaporizhzhia, 98% in Luhansk and 99% in Donetsk.
Western officials have rejected the results and alleged they were falsified to serve the Kremlin’s political aims, mimicking similar steps taken in Crimea in 2014.
Putin paved the way for the annexation of Zaporizhizhia and Kherson earlier Friday by signing an executive order that recognized their “state sovereignty and independence.”
The move echoed steps Putin took in February in the lead up to the invasion when he “recognized” the independence of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday claimed the order followed the “will expressed by the people” and was done “in accordance with the generally accepted principles and norms of international law.”
In a statement posted to Telegram the ministry said Moscow was “recognizing and reaffirming the principle of equal rights and self-determination of the peoples as set forth in the United Nations Charter.”
However, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres on Thursday condemned Russia’s attempts to seize roughly 15% of Ukraine’s territory and said it was a “clear” violation of the U.N. Charter.
“Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law,” he told reporters.
Putin is expected to meet with representatives from the LPR, DPR and Moscow-installed regional officials from Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Friday.
Check back on this developing story.