The United Nations Secretary-General strongly condemned Russia’s plan to formally annex four areas of Ukraine in a ceremony on Friday, saying it is illegal and “must not be accepted.”
“The U.N. Charter is clear,” Antonio Guterres told reporters Thursday. “Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law.”
He said any decision to proceed with the annexation of the four Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south, would have “no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”
The Kremlin announced earlier in the day that it will hold a ceremony on Friday to officially incorporate the four areas of Ukraine into Russia. The move has been dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine and its allies, who are readying new sanctions against Moscow in response.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the ceremony will include Russian President Vladimir Putin along with the Russian-appointed heads of the four regions, where Russia orchestrated referendums that ended earlier this week.
“I want to underscore that the so-called “referenda” in the occupied regions were conducted during active armed conflict, in areas under Russian occupation, and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework,” the U.N. chief said. “They cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will.”
He warned that if Russia goes ahead with its planned annexation, it will be a “dangerous escalation” and will further jeopardize the prospect for peace.
“It is high time to step back from the brink,” Guterres said.
Guterres’ spokesman said the U.N. chief had conveyed this message to the Russians when he spoke with their U.N. ambassador on Wednesday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Thursday that he assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Germany will never recognize the “so-called results.”
“The sham referendums carried out by Putin in the illegally occupied areas of Ukraine are worthless,” Scholz said.
In Washington, Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke about proposed U.S. Congressional legislation in response to Russia’s latest moves.
“Senator (Lindsay) Graham and I are introducing today legislation that would very simply immediately require cutting off economic and military aid to any country that recognizes Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine,” he said Thursday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday that the United States expected Russia “to use these sham referenda as a false pretext to try to annex Ukrainian territory in flagrant violation of international law and the United Nations Charter.”
Jean-Pierre said that no matter what Russia claims, the areas remain Ukrainian territory.
“In response, we will work with our allies and partners to impose additional economic costs on Russia and individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia that provide support to this action,” she said.
At the U.N. Security Council, the United States is working with Albania on a draft resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” calling on states not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and compelling Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Russia will certainly use its veto to block the measure, but that will then allow member states to move to the General Assembly to seek condemnation there. A similar strategy following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea drew the rebuke of 100 countries.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday the EU is planning to respond with “sweeping new import bans on Russian products” and to expand its export ban “to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies.”
"This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional 7 billion euros in revenue," von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. The EU’s 27 member countries would have to approve the sanctions for them to take effect and the bloc has had difficulty in reaching agreement on some previous sanctions.
“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.
The Ukrainian territory includes the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, representing about 15% of the country.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.