Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the annexation of four occupied areas in eastern and southern Ukraine where pseudo-referendums widely dismissed as illegitimate and false were staged. The step, condemned as illegal by the West and the UN, marks an escalation in the war unleashed after the Russian invasion on February 24 and further removes the chances of achieving peace.
What does the imminent annexation of the territories occupied by Putin mean in Ukraine
“The inhabitants of the Lugansk and Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions of the people’s republics have made an unequivocal decision. Treaties will be signed to accept the four new territories in Russia,” Putin said, as reported by Russian media, in a long combative speech, aimed mainly at the West. “The inhabitants of the Lugansk and Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions of the people’s republics become our citizens forever.” He has also stated that Moscow “will never betray” the inhabitants of these Ukrainian areas.
Shortly after, Putin has signed the so-called “accession treaties” together with the pro-Russian leaders and placed by Moscow in the occupied zones. The annexation signing ceremony and the Russian president’s speech were held in the Saint George room of the Grand Kremlin Palace. Celebrations are scheduled to continue in Moscow’s Red Square. In Ukraine, meanwhile, 25 people have been killed and dozens injured in a Russian missile attack on a humanitarian convoy of people queuing to leave for the occupied territory to pick up relatives in Zaporizhia in the south. according to the authorities.
Over the last week “votes” have been organized in the occupied territories of the Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions on the alleged incorporation into Russia. Armed Russian soldiers have watched the vote, which many Ukrainians have described as organized at gunpoint. According to the results released by the pro-Russian authorities, between 87.05% and 99.23% of voters supported the annexation. The vote was widely criticized internationally, including by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), one of the international organizations of reference in the observation of elections, which described it as “illegal”.
This Thursday, before the signing of the annexation, decrees signed by the Russian president were published that recognize the supposed independence of Zaporizhia and Kherson, a step that he already took in February for Lugansk and Donetsk.
Putin’s move is seen as opening the door for Moscow to portray any attempt by Ukraine to recapture them as an attack on its sovereign territory at a time when the Russian leader has vowed to use all means at his disposal – including a possible attack. nuclear – to “protect Russia”. Of the four regions, Kherson and Luhansk are the only territories over which Russia comes close to having full control. Seven months later, the war continues on the front lines in all four areas, with the capital of the southern region of Zaporizhia under control of the Ukrainian government and a counteroffensive in Kherson.
The announcement follows Ukraine’s counteroffensive that inflicted a battlefield defeat on Russia this month, forcing its troops to withdraw from much of the Kharkov region. “The mobilization and the annexations are really to hold the line. Putin tries not to lose more of the Ukrainian territories that he has taken. However, it is likely to fail, which will increase the risks for him and for us, ”said analyst and expert Mark Galeotti, author of several books on Russia, on social networks a few days ago.
Putin has not made it clear how much territory he claims. Western media have previously calculated that the areas annexed by Russia cover about 15% of Ukrainian territory. According to Reuters estimates, Altogether, Russia absorbs with this movement at least 90,000 square kilometers, an area similar to that of Hungary or Portugal, and if Crimea is added – which was also annexed in 2014 – at least a fifth of the Ukrainian territory is annexed.
The situation of the annexed areas is not homogeneous. While Russian forces occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhia in the initial phase of their invasion that began in February, in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, collectively known as Donbas, pro-Russian separatist leaders already had the backing of Moscow. Putin officially recognized the self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk a few days before the full-scale invasion.
In 1994, Russia undertook to respect Ukraine’s existing borders in the Budapest Memorandum. On February 24, when he announced the start of the “special operation” in Ukraine, as Moscow euphemistically refers to its invasion, Putin assured: “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory.”
Zelensky: “Russia annexes the catastrophe”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly warned that Russia’s pseudo-referendums on annexation would destroy any chance of peace talks. “The implementation of the so-called ‘Crimean scenario’ and another attempt to annex Ukrainian territory will mean that there is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia. Annexation is a step that sets you alone against all of humanity,” he said.
This Thursday, on the eve of Putin’s speech, Zelensky again assured that Russia “will not obtain any territory from Ukraine.” “Russia will join the catastrophe it has brought to the occupied territory of our country,” he said. “Tomorrow is another day of our fight, another day on the road to victory. Will it be special for us? It will be another day that will bring us closer to security and peace, to the restoration of our territorial integrity. Because millions of Ukrainians fight and work for it.” Zelensky has convened this Friday a meeting of the Council of Defense and National Security of Ukraine. “There will be decisions.”
West condemns illegal annexation
The movement has been harshly criticized by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, who this Thursday made it clear that the annexation by Russia violates the Charter of the United Nations, the founding international treaty of the organization, and recalls that, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the country “has a special responsibility” to respect it. “The Charter is clear. Any annexation of the territory of a State by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.”
According to the UN chief, the decision to proceed with the annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia has “no legal value and deserves to be condemned” and puts “even more in danger” the possibilities of achieving the peace. “It is not compatible with the international legal framework. It goes against everything that the international community should stand for. It disregards the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It is a dangerous climb. It has no place in the modern world. It should not be accepted.”
The West has promised to impose more sanctions on Russia. “The United States, I want to be very clear on this, will never, never, never recognize Russia’s claims to the sovereign territory of Ukraine,” Joe Biden said.
“The illegal annexation proclaimed by Putin will not change anything,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. “All the territories illegally occupied by the Russian invaders are Ukrainian lands and will always be part of this sovereign nation.”