Kyiv — Russia confirmed on Thursday that it will be formal to annex parts of Ukraine where Kremlin-organized “referendums” on life under Moscow’s rule were held in the occupied territories, which the Ukrainian government and the West condemned as illegal and rigged. Russian President Vladimir Putin will take part in the ceremony of official accession of four regions of Ukraine to Russia on Friday in the Kremlin, press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told reporters.

Piaskov said that pro-Moscow heads of regions will sign agreements on joining Russia at a ceremony in the St. George’s Hall of the Kremlin.

Official annexation was widely expected after a vote that ended Tuesday in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, and after Moscow said the vast majority of residents supported their areas officially becoming part of Russia.

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The United States and its Western allies strongly condemned the vote as a “fake referendum” and vowed never to recognize its results. German Foreign Minister Analena Berbock on Thursday joined other Western officials in condemning the referendums.

“Under threats and sometimes even at gunpoint, people are taken out of their homes or workplaces to vote in glass boxes,” she told a conference in Berlin.

Voting at controversial referendums in Ukraine
People cast their votes in a controversial referendum in Donetsk, Ukraine, on September 27, 2022.

Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“This is the opposite of a free and fair election,” Burbock said. “And this is the opposite of peace. It is a dictated peace. As long as this Russian dictate reigns in the occupied territories of Ukraine, not a single citizen is safe. No citizen is free.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a statement condemning the Russian plan.

“The UN Charter is clear,” he said. “Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state as a result of the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law.”

“I must be clear,” Guterres stressed. “The Russian Federation, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, bears special responsibility for the implementation of the Charter. Any decision to annex Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions will have no legal significance and deserves condemnation. It cannot be reconciled with the international legal framework.”

During the five days of voting, armed troops went door-to-door with election officials to collect ballots. The suspiciously high benefits have been described as a land grab by the Russian leadership, which is increasingly cornered after its ignominious military losses in Ukraine.

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Moscow-installed administrations in four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine said late Tuesday that 93% of voters in Zaporozhye Oblast supported annexation, as did 87% in Kherson Oblast, 98% in Luhansk Oblast and 99% in Donetsk Oblast. .

Ukraine too recognized the referendums as illegitimatesaying he had every right to reclaim the territories, a position that won support from Washington.

The Kremlin was not touched by this criticism. Russia said it would call up 300,000 reservists for the fight after Ukraine’s counteroffensive this month inflicted heavy defeats on Moscow’s forces on the battlefield. This too warned that he might resort to nuclear weapons if its territory were to come under attack — and many saw the impending annexations as a way for Putin to create the basis for just such a direct attack on Russia.

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Also on Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said that Russian shelling had killed at least eight civilians, including a child, and wounded many others. A 12-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble after the attack on the Dnipro, officials said.

“Rescuers pulled her out from under the rubble, she was sleeping when a Russian rocket hit,” said local administrator Valyantyn Reznichenko.

Reports of fresh shelling came as Russia appeared to continue to lose ground around the key northeastern city of Lyman as it grapples with a chaotic troop mobilization and prevents men of military age from leaving the country, Washington said. -tank and British intelligence reports.

The Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said Ukrainian forces had captured more villages around Liman, a town about 100 miles southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The report says that Ukrainian troops may soon completely surround Liman, which will be a serious blow to Moscow’s military efforts.

“Eclipsing the Liman Pocket is likely to have serious consequences for the Russian group in the north of Donetsk and western Luhansk regions and may allow Ukrainian troops to threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk region,” the institute notes.

A report by British military intelligence claims that the number of Russian men of conscription age fleeing the country is likely to exceed the number of forces Moscow used for the initial invasion of Ukraine in February.

“Among those trying to leave Russia, the better-off and well-educated,” the British said. “Combined with those reservists being mobilized, the domestic economic impact of reduced labor availability and accelerated brain drain is likely to become increasingly significant.”

However, this partial mobilization is highly unpopular in some areas, prompting protests, isolated outbreaks of violence, and tens of thousands of Russians fleeing the country. At some borders, long queues have formed, and Moscow has also reportedly set up conscription points at the borders to intercept those trying to leave.

CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk contributed to this report.