Russian-backed authorities in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine have reported that a huge majority of voters favor joining Russia as referendums concluded on Tuesday.
Referendums on joining Russia were held in the breakaway Donbas republics of Luhansk and Donetsk and in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. According to Russian-installed election officials, 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported joining Russia, 87% did in Kherson, 98% in Luhansk, and more than 99% in Donetsk.
The referendums have been denounced as “shams” by the West and the US, and NATO have said they will not recognize the territories as Russian. But Russian officials have made clear that they will consider the territories part of Russia and treat attacks on the areas as such.
Russian lawmakers have said they plan to move quickly to take steps to annex the Ukrainian territories once the results of the referendums are clear. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address Russia’s parliament on the referendums and annexation plans on Friday.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Russian Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, said legislation on absorbing the Ukrainian territories could be discussed on October 4.
“If they decide to join the Russian Federation, undoubtedly, we will support this. So far, I don’t see the need to hold any emergency sessions. I think that as early as October 4 we will be ready to consider [this issue] if everything is confirmed and all is well,” Matviyenko said, according to TASS.
Other Russian lawmakers have suggested annexation could come sooner, possibly as early as Friday. Either way, it’s clear Moscow is ready to absorb the territories, which will bring the war into a dangerous new phase as the US and NATO show no sign of backing down on supporting Ukrainian attacks on the regions. Russian officials have said the territories could potentially be defended with nuclear weapons.