Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally announced the Kremlin’s intention to annex nearly a fifth of Ukraine in blatant violation of international law.
Once the process is officially complete, Moscow will recognize four Ukrainian regions as Russian territory: Luhansk and Donetsk – home to two Russian-backed breakaway republics where fighting has been ongoing since 2014 – as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, two areas in southern Ukraine that have been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began.
The annexation announcement follows so-called referendums in the regions that were universally dismissed as “a sham” by Ukraine and Western nations.
Pro-Russian authorities in those regions predictably claimed this week that residents had overwhelmingly supported becoming part of Russia. Reports from the ground suggested that voting took place essentially – and in some cases, literally – at gunpoint.
Despite the widespread international condemnation, Russia is forging ahead with its plans to fly its flag over some 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) of Ukrainian territory.
This is the largest forcible annexation of land in Europe since 1945.