Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign into law Russia’s formal annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia – on Friday.
After a week of illegal referendums organised by the Kremlin in the four Ukrainian regions, Friday marks the day that Russia will officially annex larges swathes of Ukrainian territory, some of which it has occupied since 2014.
A ceremony will be held on Friday in Moscow’s Red Square to celebrate what Russia claims to be electoral victories in the occupied territories, which make up 15% of Ukraine. Putin will sign accession documents at the Kremlin before delivering a speech at the ceremony in the Red Square; a pop concert is also planned.
The Kremlin is attempting to regain some momentum after a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the north, while also completing one of the stated objectives of the invasion launched on 24 February. While it has not been able to conquer the entire country, the war in the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk pre-date the 2022 war.
No legal value
Russia, through its pro-Russia proxy combatants, has occupied large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014, with Friday's move marking a decisive moment in the eight-year war in the Donbas region. Russia also annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 under a similar strategy of military occupation followed by a forced and illegal referendum.
UN Secretary-General Antònio Guterres responded to the situation by calling Russia’s latest move a “dangerous escalation.” Under international law and the principles of UN Charter, the annexation of territory constitutes one of the most serious violations.
“Any decision to proceed with the annexations... would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” Guterres stated, adding that as a Member of the Security Council, Russia had a special duty to uphold the UN Charter.
Guterres also stated that the so-called referendums – held during active conflict in occupied areas and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework – cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will.
Russian attack on civilian convoy
On Friday morning, a convoy of Ukrainian civilians trying to escape the occupation was 'shelled near Zaporizhzhia' early on Friday morning. Reuters reported that 23 were killed and 28 wounded.
The governor of the Zaporizhzhia region Oleksandr Stryuk said in a statement: “The enemy launched an attack on a civilian convoy and the outskirts of the city. People were standing in line to leave for the occupied territory to pick up their relatives and to deliver aid. There are dead and wounded. Emergency services are on the site.”
“Russians continue to destroy Ukrainians and our Zaporizhzhia land. Continue the terror. Continue the killings... 23 dead and 28 wounded,” wrote Kyrylo Tymoshenko from the Office of the President of Ukraine on Telegram.
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Ukrainians residing in occupied territories face the prospect of being enlisted to fight against their own country in Putin's latest mobilisation efforts and have been trying to flee the occupation for Ukrainian-held territories.