(Update: President Putin at a Kremlin ceremony on Friday announced that the four Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions have now joined Russia, and that Russia will defend them using “all available means.” Hours later Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution condemning the referendums that led to the purported annexation. Also noteworthy: China, India, Gabon, and Brazil abstained.)
(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed decrees recognizing two Russian-occupied regions in southern Ukraine – Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – as “independent” states, following controversial referendums there on joining the Russian Federation.
The TASS state news agency said the decrees, dated Friday, come into effect immediately. Putin is expected at an official ceremony later in the day to sign treaties on incorporating Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, as well as Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, into Russia.
(Putin has already recognized Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” as “independent,” announcing the move on the eve of the invasion last February.)
“[T]he Russian president’s decision is based on universal principles and norms of the international law, acknowledging and confirming the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples enshrined by the U.N. Charter, and with regard to the will of the people expressed in a referendum,” TASS said.
Over five days ending Tuesday, residents of the four regions voted on the question of joining Russia. According to results announced by Russian proxies, the votes went in favor of becoming part of Russia by margins of 87, 93, 98, and 99 percent.
In Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, the ballot question was, “Are you in favor of the region leaving Ukraine, creating an independent state, and joining the Russian Federation?”
Following Putin’s decrees recognizing their “independence,” annexation is the next step.
The foreign ministry in Moscow said the referendums held in the four regions had clearly shown that their inhabitants want to “forever link their future fate with our country.”
“These people rebelled against terror and the long-term war unleashed by the Kyiv neo-Nazi regime with their own people,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing. The remarks align with the Kremlin’s narrative that the Ukrainian government has been waging “genocide” against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
After a popular uprising ousted a pro-Moscow Ukrainian president that year, Russia began supporting separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk fighting against the central government. Putin also annexed Crimea, following a referendum not recognized by most of the international community.
“People made a conscious and free choice,” Zakharova said of the four recent referendums. “They loudly and firmly declared to the whole world their desire to be together with Russia from now on, forever link their future fate with our country – which was, is, and will be their historical homeland.”
As Putin did in his decrees, Zakharova claimed the voting exercise had taken place in line with international law, including the U.N. Charter.
President Biden on Thursday reiterated that Russia’s actions were “a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter,” and slammed what he called “the shameless and transparent effort by Russia to annex parts of its neighbor.”
“The United States will never, never, never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory,” Biden said in remarks to the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit at the State Department.
“The so-called referenda was a sham, an absolute sham, and the results were manufactured in Moscow,” he said. “The true will of the Ukrainian people is evident every day, as they sacrifice their lives to save their people and maintain the independence of their country and in defense of freedom as well.”
“Russia’s assault on Ukraine in pursuit of Putin’s imperial ambitions is a flagrant – a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter and the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In a statement rejecting the referendum scheme, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted some of the circumstances under which voting had taken place.
“Russia has forced much of the population in areas it seized to flee and compelled Ukraine’s citizens that remained to cast ballots at gunpoint, in fear for their safety, and the safety of their loved ones,” he said.
“Ukraine’s people have consistently expressed their desire for a free and democratic future. They want their country to remain independent and sovereign,” Blinken said. “Their soldiers are fighting bravely, and citizens in Russia-controlled or occupied areas of Ukraine are resisting Moscow’s efforts to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders by brute force.”
'Moment of peril'
Weighing in on the competing claims about the U.N. Charter, U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that any attempt to move ahead with annexing the four regions of Ukraine “would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”
“The U.N. Charter is clear,” he told reporters in New York. “Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law.”
Guterres referred to the situation as a “moment of peril.”
Russian troops control some but not all of the four regions Putin plans to annex. The U.S. has made clear it supports the Ukrainians’ right to use the weapons provided to them to try to win back the lost territory.
Crimea’s annexation in 2014 was condemned by most members of the U.N. General Assembly. When it voted on a resolution to that effect, only ten countries sided with Russia – Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Asked on Thursday if Russia would seek to persuade other countries to recognize the outcome of the latest four referendum, Zakharova replied, “We will inform and provide facts, convince based on arguments.”