By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to host a ceremony on September 30 at which he will formally move to seize four Ukrainian territories by signing documents that the Kremlin is calling “accession treaties.”
Putin recognized the independence of the Ukrainian regions Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in decrees early on September 30 that are an intermediary step paving the way for the two occupied regions of Ukraine to be annexed by Russia.
The decrees are similar to steps Putin took in February just before launching the invasion of Ukraine regarding Luhansk and Donetsk.
The United States and the United Nations on September 29 strongly denounced Russia’s plans to hold the annexation ceremony, which comes on the heels of referendums in Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Luhansk, and Donetsk that Western countries said were a “sham” but that Moscow-installed officials in the regions said showed overwhelmingly support for joining Russia.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s territory, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the referendums were “a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine,” adding in a statement that the results “were orchestrated in Moscow and do not reflect the will of the people of Ukraine.”
As Washington and the European Union prepared additional sanctions to further isolate Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said annexation would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardize the prospects for peace.
Guterres said any decision to proceed with the annexation of the four regions “would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”
The annexations “will prolong the dramatic impacts on the global economy, especially in developing countries, and hinder our ability to deliver life-saving aid across Ukraine and beyond,” Guterres said.
The Kremlin announced earlier it will move to seize the territories through the signing of documents on “the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation.”
The territory amounts to about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area and is equal to the size of Hungary.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the signing ceremony involving Putin and Moscow-imposed leaders from the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya would take place at 3 p.m. Moscow time.
Putin will sign accession documents in an ornate Kremlin hall and deliver a speech, Peskov said. A pop concert will be held on Red Square, where a stage with giant video screens has been set up and where billboards proclaim “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson — Russia!”
The announcement prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to call an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council on September 30, presidential spokesman Serhiy Nikiforov said on Facebook. The agenda and other details will be announced later, Nikiforov added.
Zelenskiy promised a “very harsh” response to the annexation, which he previously said destroyed any chance of reviving peace talks.
“The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a worthwhile life, or any respect for humanitarian values,” Zelenskiy said in his evening address on September 29.
Zelenskiy also issued a separate video directed at Russia’s ethnic minorities, especially those in Dagestan, one of the country’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus.
“You do not have to die in Ukraine,” he said, standing in front of a plaque in Kyiv memorializing what he called a Dagestani hero. He called on the ethnic minorities to resist mobilization.
The votes in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson were held amid claims by some local officials that voters have been threatened and coerced to vote. Election officials brought ballot boxes house-to-house, in many cases accompanied by armed Russian troops.
The four regions form a crucial land connection for the Kremlin between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and is otherwise only connected to the mainland by a bridge.
The Kremlin’s move was announced just hours after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said work was under way on a new package of measures designed “to make the Kremlin pay” for escalating the conflict in Ukraine.
“We do not accept the sham referenda nor any kind of annexation in Ukraine, and we are determined to make the Kremlin pay the price for this further escalation,” she told reporters in Brussels.
The proposed eighth sanctions package includes further import bans on Russian products that are meant to deprive Moscow of an additional 7 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in revenues.
The EU will fully ban imports from Russia of steel and steel products, pulp and paper, machinery and appliances not yet covered by existing sanctions, intermediate chemicals, plastics, and cigarettes, according to an EU diplomat.
The sanctions would also ban the export of EU of goods used in aviation, such as tires and brakes, and electrical components including certain semiconductors and less sophisticated components than those already banned, the diplomat added.
In addition, the diplomat said the proposal also aims to ban the export of specific goods that can be used for torture.
The sanctions package will lay the legal basis for an oil price cap and ban EU citizens from sitting on governing bodies of Russian state-owned companies, von der Leyen said.
Pro-Russian Officials Say Annexation Vote In Ukraine Delivers Expected Result: Overwhelming Approval
The new sanctions also would include restrictions on 37 individuals and companies that are engaged in organizing referendums.
This would include deputy ministers, celebrities, musicians, and people involved in spreading disinformation.
The proposal has been presented to the EU ambassadors of the 27 member countries, who are scheduled to discuss it on September 30. They will have to overcome differences in order to reach the required unanimity.