Vladimir Putin. Photo: Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a signing ceremony Friday to formally annex four Moscow-occupied areas of Ukraine, the Kremlin said Thursday, following staged referendums in the regions that were widely condemned by Western governments as a "sham."
Why it matters: The expected annexation will dramatically raise the stakes in the occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson as Putin could attempt to portray any attack in the areas as an attack on Russia itself.
- None of the four regions is entirely controlled by Russia. Ukraine accused Russia of coercing residents, some by gunpoint, into voting for annexation.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously warned that annexation would spell the end of any diplomatic negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
Driving the news: Putin will give a speech on Friday announcing the regions will be absorbed by Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov previously said the annexed areas would have Moscow's "full protection," a signal they could be brought under the nuclear umbrella.
- Ukraine is currently conducting counterattacks in Kherson and elsewhere. Under Putin's formulation, Russia will now deem those battles to be taking place on Russian soil.
What they're saying: "Russia’s actions are transparently fraudulent and have no legal significance whatsoever. We will never recognize these illegal and illegitimate attempts at annexation," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.
- "Regardless of Russia’s claims, this remains Ukrainian territory, and Ukraine has every right to continue to fight for their full sovereignty," she added.
What to watch: The White House also Wednesday vowed to "work with our allies and partners to impose additional economic costs on Russia and individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia that provide support to this action."
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