Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws on Wednesday officially recognizing Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
The laws end the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, each of which held Russian-backed elections to join its eastern neighbor. The “referendum” elections were held by the Russian authorities and Russian separatists.
The elections were held in defiance of international law and have been rejected by Ukraine and the West as a sham. They were also held in the midst of the ongoing war effort.
Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties with the four regions, making annexation legal in Russia’s eyes.
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A formal signing ceremony with separatist leaders was held last week at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia.
Putin’s decision to annex Ukrainian regions comes as his army has suffered heavy losses in the ongoing war in Ukraine, which began when Russia first invaded the country on February 24.
Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia lie along Ukraine’s eastern and southeastern borders with Russia, the Sea of Azov and Crimea, a Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014. The Kremlin has not specified the borders of the newly absorbed.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded to the annexation by ruling out further peace talks with Russia. He also announced that his country was still seeking a fast-track application to join NATO.
Ukraine’s military recently launched a series of successful counterattacks, retaking conquered territory and pushing Russian forces back in some areas to their own national border.
The Ukrainian Southern Operational Command is currently retaking villages in Kherson, as well as the villages of Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka, and Mala Oleksandrivka.
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Putin and the Russian security forces have pledged to defend the newly recognized Russian territories using all necessary means.
Associated Press contributed to this report.