Hot topics close

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

Moscow is poised to annex parts of Ukraine, in what Kyiv and the West have denounced as illegal, sham referendums. Here's what could happen next.

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.

"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
Donetsk and Luhansk on a map.
The Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) are Russian-controlled portions of two larger Ukrainian regions. (Foreign Correspondent: Emma Machan)

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.

"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.

Two men with their arm around each other's shoulders cheering.
Head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin and Secretary of the United Russia Party's General Council Andrey Turchak.(Reuters: Alexander Ermochenko)

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.

"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.

People wait in line to receive their ballots at a polling station
People receive their ballots at a polling station during a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic to Russia.(Reuters / Alexander Ermochenko)

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.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Watch
Duration: 1 minute 58 seconds1m 58s
Play Video. Duration: 1 minute 58 seconds
Russia stages referendum to justify annexation of Ukraine.

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

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.

Banners on a building in Moscow read:
Banners on a building in Moscow read: "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson. Together forever!"(Reuters: Evgenia Novozhenina)

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.

"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.

Loading Twitter content

"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.

"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.

Loading Twitter content

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

Similar shots
News Archive
  • Saman Kunan
    Saman Kunan
    Thai cave rescue: The man who died helping save the boys has been remembered as a hero
    11 Jul 2018
    2
  • Sydney McLaughlin
    Sydney McLaughlin
    Meet the nun who cheered Sydney McLaughlin to a gold medal and new world record in Tokyo
    4 Aug 2021
    2
  • Australia Cup
    Australia Cup
    Yorke's Bulls secure first Australia Cup
    1 Oct 2022
    5
  • Cameron Boyce
    Cameron Boyce
    Cameron Boyce's Loved Ones Honor Late Disney Star on What Would've Been His 22nd Birthday
    29 May 2021
    4
  • Ark 2
    Ark 2
    Vin Diesel Is Fighting Dinosaurs In Ark 2
    11 Dec 2020
    1
  • Taylor Swift Midnights
    Taylor Swift Midnights
    Taylor Swift's 'Midnights' teaser trailer on 'Thursday Night Football' leaves viewers confused
    21 Oct 2022
    1
This week's most popular shots