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Australia: Russian President Vladimir Putin paves way for annexation by recognising Kherson, Zaporizhzhia as independent territories

Vladimir Putin used to call out America for its hubris. Now he appears to have fallen into the same trap

  Vladimir Putin used to call out America for its hubris. Now he appears to have fallen into the same trap Vladimir Putin has regularly warned the West of the dangers of getting stuck in foreign conflicts. So why does he appear to be ignoring his own advice and wading deeper and deeper into his ruinous war with Ukraine?The Ukrainian invasion he thought would take a couple of days in February is about to enter its eighth month.

Moscow is poised to annex parts of Ukraine, following what Kyiv and the West have denounced as illegal, sham referendums held at gunpoint.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has now signed decrees paving the way for the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia.

The decrees, made public by the Kremlin, said Mr Putin had recognised the two regions as independent territories. This is an intermediary step required ahead of the annexation.

Mr Putin will proclaim the annexation in a major speech on Friday, after pro-Moscow administrations of all four occupied regions of southern and eastern Ukraine said their residents voted to join Russia in five days of Kremlin-orchestrated balloting.

Putin’s desperate attempt to annex parts of Ukraine

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"The main thing has already happened – the referendum has taken place,” Rodion Miroshnik, the Russia-installed ambassador to Moscow of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, told the RIA state news agency.

“Therefore, let’s say: the locomotive has already started and it’s unlikely to be stopped."

What areas is Russia trying to claim as its own?

Russia is planning to annex four regions:

  • The self-styled Donetsk (DPR) and the Luhansk People's Republics (LPR) in Ukraine's east, which Mr Putin recognised as independent territories days before the invasion
  • The Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine's south

Russia does not fully control any of the four regions, with only around 60 per cent of the Donetsk region in Russian hands, but Kremlin officials have said any attack on annexed territory would be an attack on Russia itself.

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"The results are clear. Welcome home, to Russia!," Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who serves as deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, said on Telegram.

Together, the four regions cover about 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory — an area about the size of Hungary or Portugal.

How can Russia annex 15 per cent of Ukraine?

An annexation is when a state proclaims its sovereignty over territory outside its domain, and is frequently preceded by military occupation of the area.

The Russian-backed separatist leader in Luhansk, Leonid Pasechnik, and the Russian-installed administrator in occupied Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, both said they had formally asked Mr Putin to incorporate their territories into Russia.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said he was on his way to Moscow to complete the legal process of joining Russia.

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"Donbas is Russia — it was, it is and it will be," he said.

To annex the territories some sort of treaty will be struck and ratified by the Russian parliament, which is controlled by Mr Putin's allies.

The areas will then be seen as part of Russia and Moscow's nuclear umbrella will extend to them.

In his most recent comments, Mr Putin explicitly warned the West that Russia would use all available means to defend Russian territory and accused the West of discussing a potential nuclear attack on Russia.

"This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them," he said.

Was the referendum legitimate?

The ballots have been widely discredited and have earned the Kremlin no relief from international pressure over its assault on its neighbour.

Residents who escaped to Ukrainian-held areas in recent days have told of people being forced to mark ballots in the street by roving officials at gunpoint.

Footage filmed during the exercise showed Russian-installed officials taking ballot boxes from house to house with armed men in tow, Reuters reports.

Putin signs laws annexing 4 Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

  Putin signs laws annexing 4 Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia The Russian government officially recognizes the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine as Russian territories, completing a weeklong process.The laws finalize the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which each held elections to join their eastern neighboring country. The "referendum" elections were conducted by Russian authorities and Russian-separatists.

Russia says voting was voluntary, in line with international law, and that turnout was high. But the referendums and notion of annexations has been rejected globally, as was Russia's 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.

"Any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that consider the inviolability of border to be vital for themselves," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

When could Russia annex these areas?

On Moscow's Red Square, a tribune with giant video screens has been set up, with billboards proclaiming "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson — Russia!"

Mr Putin could proclaim the annexation in a speech in the coming days, just over a week since he endorsed the referendums and ordered a military mobilisation at home.

The head of the upper house of the Russian parliament said it could consider the incorporation of the four regions on October 4.

It comes after the Russian-installed administrations of the four Ukrainian provinces on Wednesday formally asked Mr Putin to incorporate them into Russia, which Russian officials have suggested is a formality.

What does it mean for those living in the annexed regions?

While Russia said that voting in the referendum was voluntary, publishing what they described as results showing overwhelming support for annexation, the claims have been rejected by some residents fleeing the occupied areas.

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"A lot of people are just leaving everything behind. There are places that are completely deserted," said said Lyubomir Boyko, 43, from Golo Pristan, a village in Russian-occupied Kherson province, who left for the Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia city with his family.

"Everybody wants to be in Ukraine, and this is why everybody is leaving. Over there is a lawless place. Entire villages are leaving."

Those fleeing Russian-held territory fear that once Moscow declares the territory to be Russia, it could force men to fight in its forces.

For now, some in occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces have been allowed to leave through one checkpoint, but it's not known how long the route will stay open, especially for draft-aged men.

"Seventy per cent of people are leaving because of the referendum. There was no light, no gas, and no work and all of a sudden, you get the referendum," said Andriy, 37, an agricultural worker from Beryslav in Kherson province, who declined to give his last name

"It’s complete nonsense. I don’t know a single person among those I know who voted."

Can other countries do anything?

The West and Ukraine say Russia is violating international law by taking 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory, but neither can actually stop Mr Putin from claiming the regions.

Mr Zelenskyy has sought to rally international support in a series of calls with foreign leaders, while the United States says it will impose economic costs on Moscow for the referendums.

"The United States will never recognise Russia's attempts to annex parts of Ukraine. Quite the opposite," said Ned Price, a spokesperson for the US State Department.

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"We will continue to work with allies and partners to bring even more pressure on Russia and the individuals and entities that are helping support its attempted land grab."

The European Union's executive has also proposed more sanctions against Russia, potentially adding to several tranches of sanctions since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February that has destroyed cities and killed thousands.

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What happens next?

On Friday, Mr Putin will begin formally annexing 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin says Mr Putin will give a major speech and later meet with Moscow-appointed administrators of the regions.

Earlier this week, the Kremlin said its "special military operation" in Ukraine must continue at least until the capture of all of eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.

Around 40 per cent is still under Ukrainian control and the scene of some of the war's heaviest fighting.

In an interview with The Associated Press, an adviser to Mr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was determined to reclaim all the territory that Russia has seized during the war.

Mykhailo Podolyak said the annexation by Russia would change nothing on the battlefield.

“Our actions depend not so much on what the Russian Federation thinks or wants, but on the military capabilities that Ukraine has,” he said.

ABC/wires

Putin is fighting alone .
Those whom the Russian president may perceive as allies do not seem to be eager to back his brutal war in Ukraine.The declaration was intended to mark a high point in the “success” of his “special operation” against Ukraine, namely the attempted annexation of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions – though Russian forces are not in full control of any of them. What Putin planned in February as a blitzkrieg has instead come to be mocked as а bly*tkrieg, substituting blitz, the German word for lightning, with a Russian curse word whose translation is not publishable here.

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