Vladimir Putin will formally annex the occupied regions of Ukraine to Russia in a major speech in Moscow tomorrow, the Kremlin has confirmed.
It comes after Moscow-backed proxy governments in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson held referendums on whether to go ahead with the move.
The armed Russian soldiers who carried the ballot boxes from door to door left no doubt about the results, and Ukraine, along with its Western allies, vowed not to recognize the results.
But it still marks a turning point in the war because it will allow Putin to tell the lie to his own people that any attack on those regions is an attack on Russia itself.
That expands the set of military options it can respond with, potentially including nuclear weapons, a threat Putin and his allies have spoken about in recent days.
Vladimir Putin will give a speech tomorrow announcing the annexation of the occupied regions of Ukraine to Russia, the Kremlin has confirmed.
Huge television screens are being erected in Red Square ahead of Putin’s speech, suggesting a large rally will also be held at the same time.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said today: “Tomorrow in the Georgian Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, a signing ceremony on the incorporation of the new territories into Russia will take place.”
Putin will deliver a speech during the event, he added, which will also feature Russian-backed puppet leaders from the occupied regions handing them over to Moscow.
Peskov spoke as huge television screens moved to Red Square in anticipation of the speech, suggesting a big rally would also be held.
Surrounding the screens were digital banners reading: ‘Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!’, in case there was any doubt about Putin’s intent.
The United States and its Western allies harshly condemned the vote as a “farce” and vowed never to acknowledge its results.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock joined other Western officials on Thursday in denouncing the votes.
“Under threats and sometimes even (at) gunpoint, people are taken from their homes or workplaces to vote in glass ballot boxes,” he said in Berlin.
Russian forces escort Ukrainians to vote on fake ballots at gunpoint
Election officials carrying a transparent ballot box (left) enter an apartment block in occupied Ukraine accompanied by armed Russian policemen (right)
“This is the opposite of free and fair elections,” Baerbock said. And this is the opposite of peace. Peace is dictated. As long as this Russian dictate prevails in the occupied territories of Ukraine, no citizen will be safe. No citizen is free.
Ukraine has also dismissed the referendums as illegitimate, saying it has every right to take back the territories, a position that has won support from Washington.
The referendums and Putin’s speech come as he tries to regain the initiative in Ukraine after his army suffered a humiliating defeat two weeks ago.
Ukrainian troops retook thousands of square miles of territory east of Kharkiv in a rapid advance that caused the Russian front line to collapse.
That advance continues, with the town of Lyman now all but surrounded, according to Ukrainian and Russian sources.
The breakthrough is significant, because it is taking place in the Donbas region, although Putin says capturing it is the main objective of his war.
Facing defeat, the despot has doubled down: caving in to hardliners calling for escalation by mobilizing hundreds of thousands of men in the army.
He has also threatened to use nuclear weapons, both against Ukraine and its Western backers, which his ally Dmitry Medvedev has reiterated several times since.
Russia is also suspected of being behind two Nord Stream pipeline explosions in the Baltic Sea that have crippled a key gas route to Europe.
The purpose of the attack, analysts and experts say, is a warning to the West that its own infrastructure could be attacked unless it backs down.
Banners reading “Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!” are shown next to large television screens in Red Square, before Putin’s speech
Security barriers and checkpoints are set up in Red Square ahead of Putin’s speech in which he will declare the occupied parts of Ukraine as part of Russia.