(AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed treaties to begin the process of absorbing parts of Ukraine into Russia, defying international law.
In a ceremony in the Kremlin’s opulent white-and-gold St. George’s Hall, Putin and the heads of the four regions of Ukraine put their names on treaties for them to join Russia. The action represents a sharp escalation in the seven-month conflict in Ukraine.
The signing came three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies.
The separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine have been backed by Moscow since declaring independence in 2014, weeks after the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The southern Kherson region and part of the neighboring Zaporizhzhia were captured by Russia soon after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Both houses of the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament will meet next week to rubber-stamp the treaties for the regions to join Russia, sending them to Putin for his approval.