Vladimir Putin has signed decrees that lay the groundwork for the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia.
The Russian president is expected to sign the annexations of four Ukrainian regions – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk – into law on Friday, having held referendums in the regions widely dismissed as a sham.
The decrees signed by Putin recognize Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as independent territories, with Russia having previously recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in February. This is an intermediary step deemed necessary by Putin to “legitimize” his plans to unilaterally declare that all four regions are part of Russia.
The plan to annex the territories will mark a major escalation in the Ukraine war. Putin has said he is ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory against attack, and could now claim any Ukrainian attempt to reclaim the regions as such an attack.
Putin is seen to be passing a point of no return that will destroy any hope of negotiations for the foreseeable future and lead to a drawn-out conflict.
Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the signing of the “treaties on the accession of territories into the Russian Federation” would take place at 3pm local time in the Kremlin’s St George’s Hall, adding that Putin would deliver a “major” speech at the ceremony.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said any move by Russia to annex the territories would be a “catastrophe” and vowed that Moscow would not prevail. “We know how to react to any Russian actions,” the president said on the Telegram messaging app.