Western leaders are scrambling to respond to what many have condemned as a “land grab,” according to Politico. Putin’s move has raised concerns that Russia is committing itself to long-term conflict with Ukraine, and that a resolution to the war may be much farther off than European and North American leaders were hoping.
Russian state media reported Tuesday that Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia. The referendum, which local Ukrainian officials said was coerced by Russian soldiers, took place on September 23-27. The results in each region were strikingly lopsided in favor of Russia: 99% in Donetsk, 98% in Luhansk, 87% in Kherson, and 93% in Zaporizhzhia.
Putin said in a television appearance on Thursday that “the formation of a more just world order is taking place,” according to The New York Times. He did not directly address the expected annexation, which covers an area of roughly 40,000 square miles.
“Unipolar hegemony is inexorably collapsing,” he said. “This is an objective reality that the West categorically refuses to accept.”
Officials in the U.S. condemned the results of the referendum and Putin’s claim to the regions.
“The Kremlin’s sham referenda are a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine. To be clear: the results were orchestrated in Moscow and do not reflect the will of the people of Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Thursday.
“The United States does not, and will never, recognize the legitimacy or outcome of these sham referenda or Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory,” he continued. “This spectacle conducted by Russia’s proxies is illegitimate and violates international law. It is an affront to the principles of international peace and security.”
In the U.S. Senate, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation Thursday to block U.S. aid from going to regions “annexed” by Russia.
“We are dealing with Hurricane Putin, for the lack of a better word,” Graham said, according to Politico. “He’s trying to rewrite the map of Europe. He’s trying to do by force of arms what he can’t do by process.”
Blumenthal added: “It is a land grab. It’s a steal. And it is another craven, brazen tactic by Vladimir Putin to test the West’s support for Ukraine and we are having none of it.”
The United States committed another $1.1 billion in security assistance – including weapons, ammunition, and other war goods – towards Ukraine’s war effort on Wednesday. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, that brings U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February up to about $16.2 billion.
Some national security experts put the amount of security assistance committed much higher: over $40 billion since August of last year. The wide discrepancy is due to the confusing way in which the funds are pooled together, and a lack of organization in tracking them.
“There is a range of funding sources, including Presidential Drawdown Authority, Foreign Military Financing, and the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative,” Ari Tolany, U.S. program manager at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, told The Intercept earlier this month. “It’s been tricky to trace what materiel is coming from where.”