In the biggest forced occupation in Europe since the Second World War, Russia is to formally annex four more regions of Ukraine. The latest move comes after the Russians held referendums in the occupied territories over the last week in which the populations allegedly voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.
If Russia goes ahead, the occupation will be the largest forcible annexation in Europe since the Second World War, taking over 15 per cent of Ukraine’s land mass – 90,000 square km – into Russia, as well as four million people.
The so-called referendums – condemned by Ukraine and its allies as a sham – are claimed to have secured almost complete support for Russia’s annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the east and south of Ukraine.
Accounts have been reported of election officials going door-to-door to collect ballots accompanied by armed Russian soldiers, and even of people being forced to mark their ballots at gunpoint.
The annexation comes as Russian president, Vladimir Putin, faces trouble at home, as mass protests take place against the president’s partial mobilisation order. More than 170,000 have reportedly fled Russia to avoid conscription, with Finland announcing today that it will be closing its borders to Russian tourists at midnight local time.
While Putin will hold a signing ceremony in Moscow’s Red Square, where a stage and billboards have already been set up, much like he did in 2014 when Russian forces annexed Crimea.
Unlike in Crimea, Russia does not have full control of any of the four regions it is annexing, including the capital of Zaporizhzhia, which remains firmly in Ukrainian hands.
The West has not reacted kindly to this. The US plans to impose further sanctions, while the EU is mulling over whether or not to follow suit. Hungary has said that it will not support further sanctions if they include energy sanctions, stating “Hungary cannot support energy sanctions.
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