Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the “independence” of the Ukrainian regions Zaporizhia and Kherson as Moscow prepares to formally proclaim the annexation of Ukrainian territory in a major escalation of its seven-month invasion.
“I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence” of Zaporizhia and Kherson in southern Ukraine, Putin said in presidential decrees issued late on Thursday.
The two regions are set to be incorporated into Russia along with the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk at a lavish ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday after hastily-organised referendums in the Russian-occupied regions, which claimed majorities of up to 99 percent in favour of joining Russia.
Putin recognised the ‘independence’ of Donetsk and Luhansk in February.
The ceremony – eight years after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine following an invasion and a similar vote – will take place at 3pm local time (12:00 GMT) in the columned Georgievsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, where marble plaques engraved in gold commemorate Russian military heroes.
In unusually strong language, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York City that Russia’s annexation would violate the United Nations Charter and had “no legal value”.
Guterres described Russia’s move as “a dangerous escalation” of the conflict that began on February 24 that “has no place in the modern world.”
“It must not be accepted,” he said.
The UN Security Council is due to meet on Friday ahead of another discussion on the leaks discovered in the Nord Stream gas pipeline.
The United States and Albania have been working on a draft resolution that “condemns the Russian Federation’s organization of illegal so-called referenda” in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson, saying they “have no validity,” according to the AFP news agency.
It will also call for Russia’s immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine.
Given Russia has a veto in the security council, all eyes will be on the responses from India and China, as well as a later General Assembly vote.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday reiterated the US would never recognise Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s territory.
“The results were manufactured in Moscow,” Biden said of the referendums.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine.