Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to sign formal annexation agreements with four regions of Ukraine on Friday. Photo courtesy of Kremlin Pool | License Photo
Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to formally sign agreements to annex four regions of Ukraine on Friday, followed by a speech.
The move follows referendums in the regions -- Kherson, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk -- that were denounced as a sham by Western leaders and the Ukrainian government.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters Thursday Putin will sign the agreements, then address the nation in a speech on Friday as Moscow prepares to hold a large rally in support of annexation.
Workers were putting up billboards near the Kremlin that read, "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson -- are Russia!," NPR reported Thursday.
Next, the agreements would be signed by pro-Russian leaders in the occupied regions. The issue would then be brought before the Russian legislature as a draft law, where it would have to pass before being signed into law by Putin.
The referendums were accompanied by reports of widespread voter intimidation by armed fighters who accompanied poll workers as they went door to door with ballots.
The European Commission responded to the referendums by proposing new sanctions against key individuals involved in Russia's annexation plan, as well as new restrictions on trade. The new sanctions would have to be approved by all European Union member states.
Russia has faced internal turmoil after Putin announced a "partial mobilization" of military age men on Sept. 21. The announcement was followed by an exodus of Russian men into neighboring countries, with long lines being reported at border crossings with Finland and Georgia.