Russian lawmakers formally approved the annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine on Monday. The Duma voted unanimously in favour of legislation, completing the technical formalities for Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to formally join the Russian Federation..
Members of the Kremlin-loyal lower house of parliament, the State Duma, all voted to incorporate Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia with no abstentions or votes against the annexation, its website showed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had last week presided over a Kremlin ceremony in which he signed the articles of accession, following a referendum conducted by Moscow in the regions a week earlier.
'Defending Russian Language, Culture and Borders'
In the Russian parliament on Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the lawmakers to support the bill. He said the Kremlin move is aimed at 'defending Russian language, culture and borders.'
"We are not responding to imaginary threats, we are defending our borders, our Motherland and our people," he said, according to Reuters.
The annexation of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia is hotly contested by Ukraine and the West. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to go all the way in freeing the territories from Russian control. His western allies are arming Ukraine and extending more financial and other aid.
In the United Nations Security Council, Russia vetoed a US-backed move to condemn the Russian annexation of the regions. The resolution, tabled by the US and Albania on Wednesday called the referendum 'illegal' adding that it was held in "regions within Ukraine's internationally recognised borders."
In the 15-member UN Security Council, the resolution was vetoed by Russia, while China, Gabon, India and Brazil abstained, in apparent support for the Russian stance. Ten other members of the Council voted in support of the resolution.
By adding the four regions to the Russian Federation, Moscow has made a strategic move, even as the war with Ukraine takes another crucial turn. These regions , which make up about 20 percent of the Ukraine territory, also lets Russia have unobstructed land connection with the Crimean Peninsula, which it had taken from Ukraine in 2014.
By formally annexing Luhansk and Donetsk as well as the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Putin would be in a position to strategically alter the war narrative, the Kremlin calculates. Once the regions are technically annexed, Moscow will cite territorial integrity and sovereign rights in the war to hold on to the regions.
Moscow repeated the warning that Russia would consider any attempts by Kiev to retake the annexed territories as attacks on its own land. "Immediately the Russian Constitution will come into force in relation to these territories where everything is very clearly stated in this regard," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week.