It comes after Moscow-backed authorities staged votes in the occupied regions of Ukraine’s east and south that were widely denounced as a sham to justify a land grab following Russia’s recent military setbacks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin would attend a ceremony on the accession of the four regions — Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia — at the Kremlin’s St. George’s Hall on Friday.
“There will be a big speech by Putin there too,” Peskov said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has decried the ballots as an illegal “propaganda show.” They saw armed troops accompany election officials going door-to-door asking people to vote.
The United States and its Western allies have vowed not to recognize Russia’s claim over the areas.
The State Department says it will slap further economic sanctions on Russia in response to what spokesperson Ned Price called a “land grab” on Wednesday. “Based on our information, every aspect of this referenda process was pre-staged and orchestrated by the Kremlin,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told another briefing.
There is also international concern about how Moscow might seek to defend its new claimed territory if and when Kyiv tries to take it back. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has suggested it could be prepared to use nuclear weapons — a threat Putin has repeatedly made.
The hastily arranged votes were announced last week alongside Putin’s declaration that he would be calling up military reservists to bolster his struggling campaign in Ukraine.
That triggered an exodus of thousands of Russians trying to flee the draft, with miles of lines of traffic at border crossings with Georgia and Finland — the latter closing its frontier Thursday.
Many Western experts see the moves as acts of desperation by Putin, whose armies have been pushed back by a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent weeks.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.