President Vladimir Putin will formally annex four partially Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine on Friday, the Kremlin has said, a move already rejected by Kyiv and its Western allies as illegal and meaningless.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a ceremony to mark the incorporation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia into Russia would take place at 3pm Moscow time (12:00 GMT).
Treaties will be signed alongside the Moscow-appointed administrators of the Ukrainian regions at the Kremlin’s St George’s Hall, he added.
The move was widely expected following annexation votes that ended on Tuesday in the four regions. Moscow-backed local officials claimed residents had overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining Russia.
The hastily arranged votes were held seven months after Russia’s invasion began.
Ukraine dismissed the votes as a sham and promised to punish traitors who assisted in organising them, as well as extend its counteroffensive.
Following the signing ceremonies, Putin will give a speech, the Kremlin said.
Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Moscow, said the Russian-installed leaders of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia had arrived in the capital ahead of Friday’s events.
“There is preparation for a big public celebration in Moscow’s Red Square … so all the signs are indicating that Russia is determined to take the decision and make it [the annexations] a fact,” Vall said.
“Russia is talking about this as a correction of history – saying that those regions and Russia have been wronged,” he added.
“Moscow also says it will take every measure necessary to defend them after the annexations, and has even spoken in the last few weeks about nuclear weapons being used to defend what it will call, from tomorrow perhaps, its national territory.”
The four regions represent about 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory.
Annexation is not a new Russian tactic. Eight years ago, Russia seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, also following a widely condemned referendum.
To date, none of Ukraine’s allies has recognised Crimea as Russian land.