The Russian Federation officially announced the annexation of four eastern Ukrainian regions in a ceremony on September 30. According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporozhye (known as Zaporizhzhya in Ukrainian) were now a permanent and indisputable part of Russia according to Article I of the UN Charter. President Putin then made a short speech that contained some of his most critical words towards the West yet and signed treaties welcoming the four regions into the Federation.
Four days later, the Russian Duma, or Russian parliament, voted unanimously to annex all four regions pursuant to Putin’s speech. Curiously, as reported by the news agency Agentstvo on the popular social media platform Telegram, the number of people who approved the measures was one to five more than the number registered. Only 408 deputies were registered to vote and were present while in one case, there were 413 votes tallied. The Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, attempted to relieve concerns by attributing the discrepancy to a technical failure, saying “Unanimous support was unambiguously expressed. Do not count the votes.”
The annexation of these regions comes on the heels of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeast beginning on September 6, reports The Economist. Multiple sources, including The Economist, have confirmed massive Ukrainian gains in the Kharkiv Oblast, and there are now reports that the Ukrainian Army is conducting a counteroffensive in the southeast of the Kherson Region, one of the four annexed by Russia. As Voice of America reports, the city of Lyman in the Luhansk Oblast was recently liberated, and in a recent report from Ukraine’s General Staff, they announced the liberation of 93 villages in the past few days and a total of 2,400 square kilometers captured. Voice of America has yet to confirm these numbers independently. In recent days, as reported by the Associated Press, there has been increased talk from the Kremlin of the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, although the consensus from the United States government and many think tanks is that this is merely a scare tactic to attempt the Ukrainians to back down.
In light of these recent advances, Russia quickly moved along with annexation referendums held in all four regions from September 23 to 27. According to a report from the Associated Press carrying the official numbers from the Russian Government, the people of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya voted in favor of annexation with 99, 87, 98, and 93 percent respectively. No country in the United Nations has recognized these results, and the AP reports that the U.S. and Albania intend to bring a resolution that will dismiss these results as fraudulent. There is no news on if Russia plans to hold referendums in more Ukrainian oblasts, as Russia does not control a majority of them, and most speculate these referendums are simply a way to justify the continuation of the Russo-Ukrainian War.