Vladimir Putin's announcement on Friday wasn't an unexpected one, but it's one that is already receiving international pushback. The Russian president informed the world that his country would be annexing four regions of Ukraine—Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south—after referendums in those regions that Ukraine and Western nations have called a "sham." CNN reports that the annexation, which is a "blatant violation of international law," would absorb nearly a fifth of Ukraine (about 39,000 square miles) into Russia, in what it notes is "the largest forcible annexation of land in Europe since 1945."
"This is the will of millions of people," Putin told the hundreds of officials and dignitaries gathered in Moscow's Grand Kremlin Palace on Friday, per NBC News, which notes that Ukraine, the US, and other countries have decried this as an "illegal land-grab." On Thursday, President Biden called the result of the referendums—which CNN notes were at times conducted at gunpoint—"a sham, an absolute sham," while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres slammed Putin's move as a "dangerous escalation" and a breach of the UN's charter.
NBC also notes that "annexation does not mean control," using the Donetsk city of Lyman as an example: Military analysts say Russian troops inside Lyman are currently "on the verge of being encircled by Ukraine" as the seven-month war rages on. The AP reports that if the annexation proceeds, it's "expected to isolate the Kremlin further, draw more international punishment, and bring Ukraine extra military, political, and economic support." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is warning that Putin is playing with fire, per Axios. "Everyone in the world understands well what such an attempted annexation would actually mean," Zelensky said Thursday. "It will not mean what the Kremlin hopes for." (Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)