Russia to annex 4 occupied Ukraine regions at major ceremony today| Top points | World News

In a major escalation of the ongoing war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognised the independence of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. This came after he took similar steps regarding Luhansk and Donetsk in February and earlier for Crimea. The annexation would be formalised at the ceremony Friday where Putin is expected to deliver a “major’ speech.

“I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence of the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, located in southern Ukraine,” Putin was quoted as saying in the decrees.

The move — which is expected to draw more international condemnation — comes three days after the completion of “hastily organised” referendums in which Moscow-installed leaders in the occupied regions claimed majorities of up to 99% in favour of joining Russia.

Ukraine and the West have slammed the votes to be bogus and illegitimate.

Here are the top updates:

1. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defence and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday. The war-torn country has called on the West to hit Russia with more sanctions and to supply Ukrainian forces with more weapons to keep reclaiming territory.

2. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the President would sign accession documents in an ornate Kremlin hall, and give a speech. A pop concert is planned on Red Square. The ceremony comes eight years after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine following an invasion and a similar vote.

3. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Thursday called annexation of territories by Russia “illegal” under international laws, media reports said. Likening Russia’s move as that as an act of “land grab”, Blinken said that the US will never recognise the annexation by Moscow.

“The Kremlin’s sham referenda are a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine,” Blinken was quoted as saying.

4. US President Joe Biden said that “the United States will never, never, never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory”.

5. If Russia moves ahead with its plans to annex four Ukrainian regions, it would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardize the prospects for peace in the region, the United Nations Secretary-General has said.

“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.

6.The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014. Together, all five make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, whose forces in recent weeks have been clawing back ground.

(With agency inputs)

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