Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday recognized the eastern Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson as independent sovereign states, in what the Kremlin calls “accession treaties”.
“I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence” of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in southern Ukraine, Putin said in presidential decrees issued late on Thursday.
In the documents, Putin invoked the universally recognized principles and norms of international law, and the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, as enshrined in the UN Charter.
On Friday, the Russian president will hold a formal ceremony to announce the accession of the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, as well as the two Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, into Russia.
Putin is also slated to deliver a speech and hold a meeting with the Russia-appointed leaders of the four regions, which account for more than 90,000 square kilometers or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total territory.
Referendums on joining Russia were held in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, as well as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), between September 23 and 27, which saw an overwhelming majority of people voting to be part of the Russian Federation.
According to Russia’s state media, in Kherson, 87.05 percent voted in favor of declaring independence and joining the Russian Federation. In Zaporizhzhia, 93.23 percent voted to join Russia. In the DPR, the percentage of people voting for Russia was 99.23 percent, while in LPR it was 98.42 percent.
The documents signed by Putin will be submitted to Russia’s Constitutional Court, which will be followed by the State Duma – the lower house of the Russian parliament – ratifying the agreements, before they are sent to the Federal Council, its upper house, for the same procedure.
Pertinently, the Russian president recognized the independence of the DPR and the LPR in February.
Russian government officials say the four regions will fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella once they are formally incorporated into Russia, with Putin warning that he could use nuclear weapons to defend his country’s territory if needed.
Meanwhile, the plebiscites were described by the government in Kiev and its Western allies as a “sham,” with the Kremlin facing strong opposition from the international community over the move.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the accession of Donetsk and Lugansk as well of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to Russia would “have no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”
Ukraine’s embattled president Volodymyr Zelensky vowed a strong response and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday where “fundamental decisions” are expected.
The referendums came seven months into Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which was launched in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the 2014 Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, as well as to defend people “who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Back in 2014, the republics broke away from Ukraine, refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government there that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.
In response to the military operation, the US and its European allies have imposed waves of economic sanctions on Moscow, which has spawned the worst energy crisis in the world.
At the same time, Western states have been supplying Ukraine with advanced weapons and funds in a move that Moscow has repeatedly warned will only prolong the simmering conflict, which is now into its eighth month.