Putin will preside over ceremony as Russia says it will officially annex four Ukrainian regions on Friday after sham elections

Russia on Thursday confirmed it will officially annex parts of Ukraine where occupied territories have held Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on life under Moscow rule that the Ukrainian government and the West denounced as illegal and rigged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday that will formally annex four regions of Ukraine to Russia, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Mr. Peskov said the pro-Moscow administrators of the regions would sign treaties on joining Russia during the ceremony in the Kremlin’s St. George Hall.

The official annexation was widely awaited after votes concluded in Russian-held territories in Ukraine on Tuesday, and after Moscow claimed residents would vote overwhelmingly for their territories to formally become part of Russia.

The United States and its Western allies have harshly condemned the polls as “sham” and have vowed never to honor their results.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock joined other Western officials on Thursday in denouncing the votes.

“Under threats and sometimes even (at) gunpoint, people are taken from their homes or workplaces to vote in glass ballot boxes,” she said at a conference in Berlin.

“This is the opposite of free and fair elections,” Ms. Baerbock said.

“And that is the opposite of peace. Peace is dictated. As long as this Russian dictate prevails in the occupied territories of Ukraine, no citizen is safe. No citizen is free.”

Armed troops had gone door-to-door with election officials to collect ballots over five election days. The suspiciously high profit margins have been described as a land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership following embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.

Moscow-installed administrations in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine claimed Tuesday night that 93 percent of votes cast in the Zaporizhia region supported the annexation, as did 87 percent in the Kherson region, 98 percent in the Luhansk region and 99 percent in Donetsk.

Ukraine, too, has dismissed the referendums as illegitimate, saying it has every right to retake the territories, a position supported by Washington.

The Kremlin is unmoved by the criticism. After a counter-offensive by Ukraine this month inflicted major battlefield setbacks on Moscow’s forces, Russia said it would call up 300,000 reservists to join the fight. It also warned against resorting to nuclear weapons.

Also on Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said Russian shelling killed at least eight civilians, including a child, and injured dozens of others. A 12-year-old girl was pulled from rubble after an attack on Dnipro, officials said.

“The rescuers pulled her out from under the rubble, she was sleeping when the Russian missile hit,” said local administrator Valentyn Reznichenko.

Reports of fresh shelling came as Russia appeared to be losing further ground around a key north-eastern town of Lyman as it struggled to continue chaotic mobilization of troops and prevent the military-age men from leaving the country, according to an insider Washington-based think tank and the British intelligence reports.

The Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said Ukrainian forces took more villages around Lyman, a town about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. According to the report, Ukrainian forces could soon fully encircle Lyman, which would be a major blow to Moscow’s war effort.

“The collapse of the Lyman pocket is likely to have major consequences for the Russian grouping in northern Donetsk and western Luhansk oblasts, and will allow Ukrainian troops to threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk region,” the institute said.

Finland is the latest country to close its borders to Russian tourists as fighting-age men try to get out amid the mass mobilization of reserves announced by Putin last week.

The British military intelligence report claims that the number of Russian military-age men fleeing the country likely exceeds the number of forces with which Moscow originally invaded Ukraine in February.

“The better-off and well-educated are over-represented among those trying to leave Russia,” the British said. “Combined with the mobilized reservists, the domestic economic impact of reduced labor availability and accelerated brain drain is likely to become more significant.”

However, this partial mobilization is deeply unpopular in some areas, sparking protests, isolated violence and tens of thousands of Russians fleeing the country. Queues stretched for kilometers at some borders, and Moscow has also reportedly set up draft offices at the borders to intercept some of those leaving.

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/putin-to-preside-over-ceremony-as-russia-says-it-will-formally-annex-four-ukraine-regions-on-friday-after-sham-polls-42026378.html Putin will preside over ceremony as Russia says it will officially annex four Ukrainian regions on Friday after sham elections

Fry Electronics Team

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