Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws on Wednesday officially recognizing the annexation of four Ukrainian regions into Russia.
The laws finalize the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which each held Russian-backed elections to join their eastern neighboring country. The “referendum” elections were conducted by Russian authorities and Russian-separatists.
The elections were carried out in defiance of international law and Ukraine and the West have rejected them as a sham. They were also conducted amid the ongoing war effort.
Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties with the four regions, making the annexation legal in Russia’s eyes.
A formal signing ceremony was held with separatist leaders last week at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia.
Putin’s decision to annex the Ukrainian regions comes as his army has suffered major losses in the ongoing war in Ukraine, which started when Russian first invaded the country on Feb. 24.
Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are located along Ukraine’s east and southeast border with Russia, the Sea of Azov, and Crimea — a Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014. The Kremlin has not specified the borders of the newly absorbed regions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded to the annexation by ruling out any further peace talks with Russia. He also announced his country was continuing to seek a fast-track application to join NATO.
Ukraine’s military has recently struck a series of successful counterattacks, reclaiming conquered territory and pushing Russian forces back in some areas to their own national border.
Ukrainian Operational Command South is currently recapturing villages in Kherson, as well as the Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka villages.
Putin and Russian security forces have vowed to defend the newly Russian-recognized territories using any means necessary.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.