The Kremlin has announced it will formally annex four regions of Ukraine on September 30 as the West steps up preparations for fresh sanctions on Russia in the wake of what the international community has called "sham" referendums.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 29 that a signing ceremony involving President Vladimir Putin and Moscow-imposed leaders from the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya would take place at 3 p.m. Moscow time "on agreements on the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation."
Dmitry Peskov (Kremlin spokesman)
Russian-backed officials in the four regions said voters overwhelmingly supported joining Russia, but the votes have been dismissed by Ukraine, Western governments, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will convene 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 robust response to the annexation, which he previously said destroyed any chance of reviving peace talks.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy (President of Ukraine)
He called the votes on annexation held on September 23-27 "worthless" and said the territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored.
The statement came after Zelenskiy's office said he spoke by phone with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and stressed the need for a firm reaction from the world's leading countries to the Kremlin's recognition of "pseudo-referendums," the website of the president's office said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that if Russia moved ahead with its plans to annex the Ukrainian regions, it would mark a "dangerous escalation" that would jeopardize the prospects for peace in the region.
Antonio Guterres (UN Secretary-General)
The votes 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.
Ursula von der Leyen (President of European Commission)
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 White House, meanwhile, said the United States will "never" recognize Russian attempts to annex parts of Ukraine and is preparing new economic sanctions on Moscow that will impose a "severe economic cost on Russia when they move forward with annexation."
Karine Jean-Pierre (White House spokeswoman)
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.
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. (KB/RFE-RL)