Moscow, 28 September 2022 (dpa/MIA) – Russian officials claim voters in four occupied Ukrainian regions overwhelmingly approved accession to the Russian Federation after holding referendums that are illegal under international law.
With all votes counted, Donetsk and Luhansk saw 99% and 98% of voters respectively cast ballots in favour, in Kherson 87% approved annexation and in Zaporizhzhya 93% voted yes, occupying administrations in the regions said.
Kiev and countries around the world repeatedly denounced the five-day vote in areas under martial law as a “sham” and “illegitimate,” saying residents were coerced into voting out of fear for their safety and that the results were a foregone conclusion.
“This farce in the occupied territories cannot even be described as an imitation of referendums,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his Tuesday evening address.
An unprecedented annexation of the four territories is likely to begin in the coming days.
As a next step, the Moscow-appointed occupation administrations are expected to formally apply to President Vladimir Putin to be incorporated into Russian territory.
Putin had previously stressed that the territories would be completely under the protection of Russia, including its nuclear arsenal, after successful referendums.
The chairwoman of Russia‘s Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, said the upper house of parliament could decide next Tuesday whether to allow the occupied Ukrainian territories to join Russia.
Other media reports speculated Putin could formally announce the annexation of the four territories as early as this Friday in a speech to both chambers of parliament.
The discredited polls raise the stakes in the seven-month war, with the West accusing Russia of looking to use the annexations as a justification for escalating its invasion.
Russia‘s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council in New York that Moscow expects more referendums to follow in Ukraine.
Moscow is also planning to form a new federal “Crimean district,” the Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported, citing sources in the Federation Council.
It would include the Black Sea Crimean peninsula, which was annexed in 2014, as well as the occupied parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and is expected to be headed up by hardline nationalist Dmitry Rogozin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said if decisions were made to create a new federal district, the Kremlin would announce it, and that the legal system and the executive branch are ready to admit new subjects to the federation after the votes in the territories, Interfax news agency reported.
Ukrainian troops meanwhile made further gains on the eastern bank of the Oskil river in the eastern region of Kharkiv, with the town of Pisky-Radkivski once again under Ukrainian control.
Earlier, Ukrainian headquarters had reported Russian shelling in Kupyansk-Vuslovyi about 40 kilometres to the north, indirectly confirming reports that the town had been retaken.
Kupyansk-Vuslovyi is an important railway junction on the left bank of the Oskil.
Following their expulsion from most of the province of Kharkiv in early September, Russian troops retreated behind the line of the Oskil and Siversky Donets rivers. They were unable to hold this line as Ukrainian troops reported successes in the Donetsk region, coming within a few kilometres of the Luhansk region.