Russia’s referendums allow for 15% of Ukraine to be annexed: What comes next?

Voting began Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia. AP

The four referendums held by pro-Russian authorities installed in four occupied regions of Ukraine have come to an end, paving the way for the Vladimir Putin-led country to annex more territory.

Hastily arranged votes took place in four areas — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson – that make up about 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory. As per an Associated Press report, Russia-installed election officials said that 93 per cent of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87 per cent in the Kherson region, 98 per cent in the Luhansk region and 99 per cent in Donetsk.

The polls have been branded an escalation of Moscow’s campaign and called a “sham” by Kyiv and its Western allies.

Here’s what Russian state media say will happen next, based on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014:

Rapid results

Just as the annexation of Crimea has never been recognised by the international community, Kyiv and its allies have vowed not to accept the results.

The Kremlin, however, gave the polls a veneer of respectability by following a superficially legitimate voting process.

According to a BBC report, up to four million people were asked to vote in the war-torn regions, which make up about 15 per cent of Ukraine’s territory.

The referendums asking residents whether they wanted the four occupied southern and eastern Ukraine regions to be incorporated into Russia began on 23 September, often with armed officials going door-to-door collecting votes.

Russian parliament’s role

Now, the Russian parliament, the State Duma, will approve a treaty formally incorporating the four regions into Russian territory.

Over the weekend, Russian state news agencies TASS and Ria Novosti quoted parliament sources as saying an annexation bill could be proposed and approved by the Duma on Wednesday.

The speaker of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said last week he would “support” the integration into Russia of the regions — Luhansk and Donetsk in the east and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south.

The bill will then be approved by the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. This formality could be completed on Wednesday or Thursday, Russian news agencies say.

Declaration by Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected on Friday to formally declare the Ukrainian regions to have become a part of Russia, according to Russian news agencies.

This could take the form of an address at the Kremlin to the members of one or both houses of parliament.

TASS said senators had been told to take three COVID-19 tests in preparation for an “important event” on Friday — a prerequisite for everyone who encounters the president at the Kremlin.

There is a possibility, however, that Putin will make an announcement before Friday.

In 2014, he signed a treaty incorporating Crimea into Russia just two days after the Kremlin held a referendum on annexation there.

The signing, at a special ceremony in the Kremlin, took place before the draft treaty had even been submitted to parliament.

With inputs from AFP

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