Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday will officially begin annexing four more regions in Ukraine in a signing ceremony following the conclusion of self-run referenda this week that the West and Kyiv have decried as a sham.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday the ceremony would take place in Moscow “on agreements on the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation,” first reported Reuters.
The “agreement” will apparently be signed “with all four territories that held referendums and made corresponding requests to the Russian side,” he added.
Moscow-installed regionals officials from Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaphorizhzhia and Kherson are expected to represent the four regions after claiming to have achieved a monumental show of support for Russia’s illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory.
Polls close Tuesday following five days of voting organized by Russian proxies who have claimed to have garnered 93 percent of civilian support in Zaporizhzhia, 87 percent in Kherson, 98 percent in Luhansk and 99 percent in Donetsk.
Western officials have repeatedly rejected the referenda and have pointed to the last move by Russia to annex parts of Ukraine when it held a 2014 vote in Crimea and claimed that some 97 percent of Crimeans supported leaving Ukraine.
Reporting later showed the election had been falsified with only 30 percent of Crimeans even voting in the proceedings and with just 15 percent backing the peninsula’s annexation.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week accused the Kremlin of bussing in Russians to vote in the referenda and Ukrainian officials over the weekend reported coercive tactics involving intimidation to force Ukrainian’s to vote.
Annexing the four eastern and southern regions means Russia will begin to claim another 15 percent of Ukraine as Russian territory.
Moscow has repeatedly said it will consider an attack on the regions, where heavy fighting has persisted for seven months, as an attack on Russia itself – leaving some defense officials concerned that Russia could resort to even more aggressive tactics like nuclear escalation.
Putin is expected to give a speech following the ceremony.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.