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The Kremlin has announced it will formally annex four regions of Ukraine on September 30 as the West steps up preparations for fresh sanctions on Russia in the wake of what the international community has called “sham” referendums.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 29 that a signing ceremony involving President Vladimir Putin and Moscow-imposed leaders from the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya would take place at 3 p.m. Moscow time “on agreements on the accession of new territories into the Russian Federation.”

Russian-backed officials in the four regions said voters overwhelmingly supported joining Russia, but the votes have been dismissed by Ukraine, Western governments, and the United Nations because they are illegal under international law.

The votes were held amid claims by some local officials that voters have been threatened and coerced to vote. Election officials brought ballot boxes house-to-house, in many cases accompanied by armed Russian forces.

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