Four regions in Ukraine currently occupied by Russian forces have said they are planning to hold referendums on joining the Russian Federation in a series of coordinated announcements that appear to indicate the Kremlin has made a decision to formally annex the territories.
The occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said they are ready to hold polls as soon as this week, with announcements also made in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Vladimir Putin may hope that a formal annexation would help halt Russian territorial losses, after a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive that has reclaimed large portions of territory in the Kharkiv region.
But Ukraine and most western nations have indicated that they will not recognize the annexations – and that Russia’s new territorial claims will not deter Ukraine from reclaiming its sovereign land.
“These referenda are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system,” said White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
“If this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: “Russia, its political leadership, and all those involved in these ‘referenda’ and other violations of international law in Ukraine will be held accountable, and additional restrictive measures against Russia would be considered.”