Putin prepares to annex areas of Ukraine: U.S. says Russia’s actions illegal, illegitimate: Live updates

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to announce the illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine, defying international law and threats of sanctions from Western nations.

Putin was preparing Friday to formally incorporate the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson areas of Ukraine – representing roughly 15% of Ukraine’s territory – following widely discredited referendums into Russian territory.

The illegal occupation could potentially raise the stakes of Russia’s seven-month-old war in Ukraine. President Joe Biden called the referenda “an absolute sham,” and his administration promised “swift and severe economic costs” if Putin moved ahead with his plan. 

Other developments:

►Putin is scheduled to hold a signing ceremony and make a speech at the Kremlin beginning around 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET), Russian news agencies reported. To celebrate the incorporation, the U.S. has called illegal and illegitimate, an evening concert in Moscow’s Red Squareis also expected.

►Overnight, Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office said at least 25 people were killed after a Russian missile hit a convoy of civilian vehicles in Zaporizhzhia attempting to deliver humanitarian aid.

Biden calls Russia's referendum 'a sham' as it preps to annex parts of Ukraine

Annexation follows widely discredited referendums

Ukraine and Western officials have characterized the move as little more than a land grab and desperate tactic by Putin to disguise growing battlefield losses to Ukraine.

Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Only a handful of countries, such as North Korea and Syria, have recognized that annexation.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced legislation on Thursday that would prohibit countries that recognize Russia’s annexation of the four new regions from receiving economic or military assistance from the United States.

The bipartisan pair is also pushing for passage of legislation that would designate Russia a state sponsor of terror for over its actions in Ukraine. Just four countries — North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Iran — have the designation.

– Francesca Chambers and Kim Hjelmgaard

U.S. warns of possible new sanctions

Biden’s administration pledged new military support of $1.1 billion earlier in the week as Putin laid the groundwork for the annexation.

The White House also warned of the possibility of new punishing actions for Russia if Putin moves ahead with annexation.

“We are prepared to impose swift and severe economic costs on Russia when they move forward with annexation on individual entities inside and outside of the — of Russia that provide support for this action,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing.

Almost 40 countries have sanctioned Russia since its February invasion of Ukraine, freezing Russian assets abroad and seizing oligarchs’ property.

– Francesca Chambers

A man walks past a damaged building after a Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.

Russia calls in its reservists

Ever since Putin on Sept. 21 announced a call-up of reservists to fight in Ukraine, tens of thousands of men have fled Russia for neighboring countries such as Georgia, Kazakhstan and even Mongolia, where they have visa-free access.

Some Russian media have claimed the mobilization could allow up 1 million people to be conscripted, though the Kremlin denies this and Russia’s defense ministry says the true figure is closer to 300,000. Some European countries such as Germany and Finland have taken steps to restrict entry for Russian citizens, citing concerns that not everyone leaving Russia is doing so because they oppose Putin’s regime.

Military analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, believe Putin was forced to go ahead with the mobilization because of Russian battlefield losses to Ukraine at a time when Russia is running out of deployable troops. CSIS estimates that out of an initial invasion force of 190,000 Russian troops, the Russian army has sustained about 80,000 casualties.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Contributing: Associated Press

People make preparations for a concert at the Red Square, with constructions reading the words ''Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Russia'' and the St. Basil's Cathedral and Lenin Mausoleum on the background, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. The Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the four regions of Ukraine that held a referendum on joining Russia will attend a ceremony to sign documents on the regions' incorporation into Russia, which will be followed by a big concert on Red Square.