Russia has claimed victory in referendums organized in Russian occupied regions of Ukraine, giving it grounds to annex more territory.
Moscow-installed officials in the occupied regions on Wednesday, September 28 announced total support to join the Russian federation with people living in the occupied regions among those who took part in the disputed votes.
The votes were held in the breakaway eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Ballots in Russian-occupied parts of the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were also organized.
Up to four million people were asked to vote in the war-torn regions, which make up about 15% of Ukraine’s territory.
The polls were denounced as a sham by Ukraine’s government and its allies and in the absence of international recognition, the process was not monitored independently.
Kremlin backed news agencies in Donetsk and Luhansk are reporting that up to 99.23% of people voted in favour of joining Russia.
This comes as reports emerge that Russian President Vladimir Putin may announce the four regions’ annexation in a speech to a joint session of Russia’s parliament on Friday.
In March 2014, Putin announced that Crimea had joined Russia just a few days after a similarly unrecognised referendum was held there.
President Putin defended the referendums, saying they were designed to stop the persecution of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers by Ukraine – a charge the Ukrainian government denies.
If Russia annexes the four regions, which Moscow does not fully control, it could take the war to a new and more dangerous level, with Moscow portraying any attempt by Ukraine to regain them as an attack on its sovereign territory.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “brutally violating the UN statute” by trying to annex territories seized by force.
“This farce in the occupied territory cannot even be called an imitation of referendums,” he said on Tuesday night.
The president added that it was “a very cynical attempt to force men in the occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilise into the Russian army in order to send them to fight against their own homeland!”
The UK responded to the dham referendums with new sanctions targeting top Russian officials involved in enforcing the votes.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the West would never recognise Russian annexations, warning the Kremlin of “additional swift and severe costs”.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who on Tuesday visited Ukraine, described the polls as a “masquerade”.