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Putin Set to Proclaim Annexation of Seized Ukrainian Territory on Friday

LONDON: President Vladimir Putin will sign formal documents on Friday proclaiming Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, as Moscow rushes to lock in territorial claims that the Ukrainian army is threatening to reverse on the battlefield.

The move, one of the legal steps Russia says will lead to formal annexation of 15% of Ukraine’s territory, confirms that Putin is doubling down on his war against Ukraine despite suffering a major military reversal this month.

The annexation, after what Kyiv and Western countries say were phoney referendums staged at gunpoint on Russian-held Ukrainian territory, has been rejected internationally as an illegal seizure of land captured in war.

Washington and the European Union are set to impose additional sanctions on Russia over the plan, and even some of Russia’s close traditional allies, such as Serbia and Kazakhstan, say they will not recognise the annexation.

The signing ceremony will be held in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls with the pro-Russian figures Moscow considers to be leaders of the four Ukrainian regions — Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia says the referendums were genuine and show public support for the move.

After days of speculation over exactly how Russia would mark the annexation, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed some details of the ceremony on Thursday.

Agreements “on the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation” will be signed “with all four territories that held referendums and made corresponding requests to the Russian side,” Peskov said.

Putin would deliver a major speech on the subject, Peskov said. A big rock concert would be held on Friday on Moscow’s Red Square, where a tribune with giant video screens has already been set up, with billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – Russia!”