Russia triggers plan to formally annex occupied Ukrainian regions
LONDON/KYIV, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Russian-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions set out plans for referendums on joining Russia this week, a step an ally of President Vladimir Putin said would alter the geopolitical landscape forever.
Russian officials portrayed the move as one that would give Moscow a claim to territory that it could defend with any means possible. Ukraine dismissed it as a stunt by Russia to try to reclaim the initiative after crushing losses on the battlefield.
"Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything," tweeted Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
"Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say."
Russian-installed officials announced planned referendums for Sept. 23-27 in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing around 15% of Ukrainian territory or an area about the size of Hungary or Portugal.