MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin will hold a signing ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday to add areas of Ukraine to Russia, his spokesman said.
Russian-backed officials in four regions of Ukraine said referendums showed an overwhelming majority of their populations had voted to join Russia in votes labeled “sham” by Ukraine and the West.
Putin will also deliver an important speech on Friday after the Kremlin signing ceremony and meet with Moscow-appointed administrators of Ukraine’s regions, the Kremlin said.
The Russian-installed governments of Ukraine’s four provinces formally asked Putin on Wednesday to include them in Russia, which Russian officials say is a formality.
“The results are clear. Welcome home to Russia!” Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who is deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, told Telegram.
The Russian-backed authorities claim to have held referendums over five days in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, which make up about 15 percent of the country’s territory.
Residents who have escaped to Ukrainian-occupied areas in recent days have said people were forced at gunpoint to mark their ballots in the streets. Footage filmed during the exercise showed Russian-installed officials carrying ballot boxes from house to house with gunmen in tow.
“They can announce anything they want. No one voted in the referendum, except a few people who changed sides. They went from house to house, but nobody came out,” said Lyubomir Boyko, 43, from Golo Pristan, a village in Russian-occupied Kherson. province.
Russia says voting was voluntary, in accordance with international law, and turnout was high. The referendums and the idea of annexations have been rejected worldwide, as has Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.