What you should know about the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces by Russia

President Vladimir V. Putin plans to declare Friday that some 40,000 square miles of eastern and southern Ukraine will become part of Russia, an annexation widely denounced by the West, but a sign the Russian leader is prepared to up the ante in the seven-month war.

Putin is expected to deliver a “bulky” speech, his spokesman said. He is likely to downplay his military’s struggles in Ukraine and growing internal dissent. He will likely ignore worldwide denunciations of discredited referendums held in occupied Ukraine to join Russia, where some were forced to vote at gunpoint.

This is what we know:

Russia is proposing to annex four provinces – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizka and Kherson – in southern and eastern Ukraine, where heavy fighting continues. Moscow quickly put the plan into action after a humiliating battlefield defeat drove the Russian army out of another province, Kharkiv, in early September and the Ukrainian advance appeared to be gathering steam.

The Kremlin plans to declare the land where the battles are being fought in the four regions as Russian territory and claim that it is defending, not attacking, in the war in Ukraine, so it is justified in using whatever military means necessary, a thinly veiled nuclear threat. The annexation of the provinces would be used as justification to recruit Ukrainian men living there to fight other Ukrainians in the war, helping to solve the troop shortage in the Russian military.

The United States, its European allies and many other countries oppose Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling, saying allowing a country to militarily capture new territory sets a destabilizing precedent. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations noted that Russia, a member of the United Nations, was violating the United Nations Charterwhich requires UN member states to refrain from the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

Ukraine’s Western allies say so-called referendums showing support for union with Russia were a sham, as some residents of occupied areas were forced to vote at gunpoint and large parts of the population had fled as displaced persons. interns or refugees. The final counts could also have been easily falsified.

Much of the territory that Russia is about to claim as its territory is already occupied by the Russian military. Russia captured and established client states that controlled about a third of two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, in a war that began in 2014. Its army advanced into the other two provinces, Zaporizka and Kherson, in an invasion that began in February.

The front lines have shifted in fierce swinging fighting throughout the seven months of the war, with Russia mostly losing ground. The Russian military now controls most of the Luhansk and Kherson regions and about half of the Zaporizka and Donetsk regions. Thousands of square kilometers of territory and hundreds of cities, towns and villages that Russia is about to claim as its own are now under firm Ukrainian control in the Donetsk and Zaporizka regions, including the capital of one province, the city of Zaporizhzhia.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and his ministers and commanders say they will continue their fight to expel the Russian military from Ukraine, regardless of whether Moscow calls parts of his country Russia.

The Kremlin is using pomp and show of adhering to Russian legal formalities to give the annexation a semblance of legitimacy. A rally is planned in Red Square on Friday to celebrate. Delegated leaders from the four provinces traveled to Moscow and appealed to Mr. Putin to accept his regions as part of Russia. If the process follows a template established in 2014 when Russia annexed another Ukrainian region, Crimea, Putin will present a bill to the Russian Parliament proposing to expand the country’s borders.

The constitutional court will then review the proposal and both chambers will vote on it. There should be no surprises: all members of parliament are loyal to Putin. Putin would then sign the accession law and claim the new territory.