Vladimir Putin of Russia will host a signing ceremony on Friday to formally annexe four more regions of Ukraine following phoney referendums that Ukraine and the West have denounced as a fraud.
Russian-backed officials had earlier claimed the five-day exercise secured almost total popular support.
Votes that were supposedly held took place in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south, Luhansk and Donetsk in the east.
The Kremlin will host the Russian president’s important speech.
A stage has already been set up in Moscow’s Red Square, with billboards proclaiming the four regions as part of Russia and a concert planned for the evening.
The incident is reminiscent to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which likewise happened after a skewed vote and was announced by a staged victory speech by the president. The vast majority of the international community has never acknowledged that original annexation. There is no proof that Mr. Putin is preparing to give a comparable outdoor speech.
“Tomorrow at 15:00 (12:00GMT) in the St George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace a signing ceremony will be held on incorporating the new territories into Russia,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Two Russian-backed separatist leaders from the east are also expected to take part.
On October 4, three days before his 70th birthday, the Russian president is anticipated to deliver a separate speech to the upper house of parliament. The ratification of Russia’s annexation, which was opposed by the majority of the international community, would also involve parliament.
There was no independent supervision of the process, although there were reports of armed soldiers accompanying election workers as they went door to door.
Due to the staged referendums, the US has declared it will impose penalties on Russia, and EU member states are preparing an eighth wave of actions, including sanctions on anyone implicated in the ballots.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday that people in occupied regions of Ukraine had been taken from their homes and workplaces by threat and sometimes at gunpoint. “This is the opposite of free and fair elections. And this is the opposite of peace, it is a dictated peace,” she said.
The exercise began across 15% of Ukraine last Friday with only a few days’ notice. Russian state media argued that the use of armed guards was for security purposes, but it was clear that it had the added effect of intimidating residents.
“You have to answer verbally and the soldier marks the answer on the sheet and keeps it,” one woman in Enerhodar told the BBC.
Russia does not fully control any of the four regions it has decided to annex. Although most of Luhansk remains in Russian hands, Moscow only controls 60% of Donetsk.
Seven months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine from the north, east and south, war is still raging on front lines in all four areas. The capital of the southern region of Zaporizhzhia is firmly under the control of Ukraine’s government, and a counter-offensive is under way in Kherson.
Although Russian-appointed officials have been calling for annexation for several months, Ukraine’s series of military successes in September appear to have forced the Kremlin’s hand.
The Ukrainian army has recaptured large swathes of the north-east and on Thursday said its forces were encircling Russian troops in the strategically important city of Lyman, in Donetsk.
Last week, Vladimir Putin announced a military call-up and threatened to use all means at his disposal, including nuclear weapons, to defend what he considered Russian land. By annexing occupied areas of Ukraine, he will be able to argue that Russian territory is coming under attack from Western weapons, in the hope that some governments may halt their military aid to Kyiv.
The fake ballots won’t matter on the battlefield, the Ukrainian foreign minister has said.
Mr. Putin has acknowledged that in his efforts to mobilise hundreds of thousands of
Russians to support his forces in battle. A total of 2,400 demonstrators have been detained in numerous places, and Russian men are fleeing across the border.
By Tuesday, Kazakhstan alone had recorded 98,000 arrivals, and there were lengthy lines at the Georgian border. Finland has announced that it will severely limit Russian travellers arriving for leisure or to continue on to other EU nations starting this Friday.