UN flays Russia’s plan to annex Ukrainian regions

UNITED NATIONS (Agencies): Russia’s plan to annex four Ukrainian regions would mark a “dangerous escalation” in the war in Ukraine that would jeopardise the prospects for peace, the United Nations secretary-general has warned.
“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” Antonio Guterres told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York City on Thursday. More than seven months since invading neighbouring Ukraine, Russia is poised to annex the four Ukrainian regions after holding referendums there over the past week that were slammed by the government in Kyiv and its Western allies as illegal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would sign the annexation treaties on Friday. Russia, one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has a responsibility to uphold the UN Charter, which prohibits the threat or use of force and champions the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity, Guterres said.
He described the planned annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia as having “no place in the modern world”. “We are fully committed to the sovereignity, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders,” he said, calling on Russia to de-escalate tensions. “It is time to step back from the brink” and “end this devastating and senseless war”, he said.
Moscow-installed administrations in the four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine claimed late on Tuesday that voters had overwhelmingly backed joining Russia: 93 percent of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhia region supported annexation; as did 87 percent in the Kherson region; 98 percent in the Luhansk region; and 99 percent in Donetsk. Russia says it will see Ukrainian attacks on annexed regions as attacks on itself and will use all means to defend it.
Russian government officials have also warned that the four regions will fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella once they have been formally incorporated into Russia. 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.