The Kremlin announced on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a ceremony to formally annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, CNN reports.
Russian-backed officials in four occupied regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia — held sham referendums this week that were widely condemned and called illegal.
The regions make up about 18% of Ukraine’s territory.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin would hold a ceremony and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the regions on Friday.
The annexation still has to be formally approved by Russia’s two houses of parliament but the vote is largely considered a formality.
World leaders widely called the referendums illegitimate.
Rosemary DiCarlo, a senior United Nations official, said the votes “cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will.”
“Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one state of another state’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law,” said DiCarlo.
Observers have raised concerns that the move could escalate the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin is expected to treat the annexed regions as though they are parts of Russia.
Putin last week threatened to use “all the means at our disposal” to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.”