Putin could announce annexation on Friday, UK military intelligence says
Russian President Vladimir Putin may announce the annexation of multiple territories that Russia has taken in Ukraine on Friday, according to the United Kingdom’s military intelligence.
The U.K. defense ministry tweeted on Tuesday that Putin is scheduled to address both houses of the Russian Parliament on Friday, during which it said he may declare the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be part of Russia.
“There is a realistic probability that Putin will use his address to formally announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation,” the ministry said.
Referendums to officially join Russia began in those four occupied areas of Ukraine on Friday and are set to conclude Tuesday. Ukraine, the United States and other Western countries have denounced the referendums as being rigged and run by the Russian government.
Russian-backed separatists have fought the Ukrainian government in the Donbas region, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk, since 2014. Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea that year in the southern part of Ukraine following a referendum that the West also denounced as not free or fair.
Putin recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent from Ukraine in late February, days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
The U.K. defense ministry said Russian leaders hope that the announcement of the regions’ accession will vindicate the “special military operation” that Russia has claimed to be conducting in Ukraine and will consolidate support for the war in the country.
Russia has seen strong pushback in recent days after Putin announced his intention to call up to 300,000 reservists to the military to replace depleted Russian forces, the first time reservists have been called up in the country since World War II.
The defense ministry said Moscow’s hope to increase support will likely be undermined by rising awareness in the country of Russia’s military setbacks amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive and unease about Putin’s partial mobilization of reservists.