Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws to formally absorb four Ukrainian regions into Russia, following referendums in those areas that Kyiv and its Western allies called a meaningless “sham”.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed four federal constitutional laws on the entry of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions into the Russian Federation,” the lower house of parliament said, in documents published on a Russian government website on Wednesday morning. “He also signed the relevant laws on ratification.”
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Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions part of Russia.
The formalities followed Kremlin-led votes in the occupied regions after four days of voting between September 23 and 27.
The borders of the territories Moscow is claiming remain unclear, but the Kremlin has promised to defend Russia’s territory – with Putin last week pledging to use “all the powers and means at our disposal” – a comment widely interpreted as a nuclear threat.
Together, the four regions make up about 15 percent of Ukraine.
The annexation drive comes as Moscow faces setbacks on the battlefield, with Ukrainian forces retaking land in the east and the south – the very regions Moscow has pushed to annex.
Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow’s annexation plans are an illegal land grab and will never be recognised.
North Korea appears to be the only country which has publicly defended the Russian move to soak up more of Ukraine’s land, eight years after Moscow’s widely condemned annexation of Crimea.
On Tuesday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree declaring that direct negotiations with Putin have now become impossible after the annexation bid.
“Any Russian decisions, any treaties with which they try to seize our land – all this is worthless,” Zelenskyy said.
Moreover, the 44-year-old Ukrainian leader said the country’s army was carrying out a “pretty fast and powerful advance” in southern Ukraine that has led to “dozens of settlements” being liberated since the “Russian sham referendum”.
“Our warriors do not stop. And it’s only a matter of time before we oust the occupier from all our land,” he said.
Maps published by the Russian defence ministry show Moscow’s forces suffered serious territorial losses to Ukraine in Kherson over recent days.
The ministry’s daily video briefing on Tuesday made no mention of pullbacks but maps showed that Russian forces were no longer in control of the village of Dudchany on the west bank of the Dnieper river, where Ukraine has been pushing to reclaim territory captured at the start of Moscow’s offensive.
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, defence ministry maps showed that Russian forces have left positions on the west bank of the Oskil river.