The Russian lower house of parliament ratified the incorporation of four occupied Ukrainian regions on Monday and fast-tracked the relevant legislation as the West rallied further to Kyiv’s aid.
More than 400 deputies in the Russian Duma, in a move unrecognised by most of the international community, voted unanimously in favour of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson becoming part of Russia as well as enacting various laws.
“The laws fully strengthen the main social and economic guarantees of people living in the territories and create a system of legal protection for citizens,” Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma legal committee, said according to the Interfax news agency.
Russian citizenship is to be granted to all residents of the occupied regions who apply for a passport and take an oath to the country’s constitution, which will prompt pension payments and health care.
The Russian rouble will be introduced as the currency, but until the end of the year, residents will still be able to pay with Ukrainian hryvnia. By June 1, 2023, new administrative bodies will be created.
President Vladimir Putin, whose forces invaded Ukraine in February, signed the accession treaties on Friday, with the Duma having to approve them.
A similar rubber-stamping by the upper house – the Federation Council – is considered a formality.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a guest at the Duma and accused the United States of moving against Russia just like Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler once did against the Soviet Union.
“The U.S. has subjugated practically the entire collective West and mobilised it to make Ukraine an instrument of war with Russia – just as Hitler gathered the majority of the countries of Europe for an invasion of the Soviet Union,” Mr Lavrov said.
European countries like Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Belgium have slammed the annexation, summoning the Russian ambassador to condemn Moscow’s illegal land grab.
Meanwhile, the European Union on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding on providing Ukraine with another €5 billion ($4.9 billion) in macro-financial aid.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also said her country was well aware Mr Putin’s threat of nuclear war could be real but would not allow itself to be blackmailed by Moscow.
“We take his (Mr Putin’s) words very seriously; anything else would be negligent,” she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.
Ukraine has been backed by massive Western arms, and Putin has mentioned the possible use of nuclear weapons in the conflict, with his quest to capture the whole country having stalled.
Further nuclear worries have been exacerbated by fighting near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. On Monday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi tweeted that he had “received confirmation” that plant director Ihor Murashov had been “returned to his family” after having been abducted.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops again recorded successes in their counter-offensive, advancing against Russian invaders in the east and south.
In the Luhansk region, Ukrainian soldiers had already established themselves near the city of Lysychansk, a military spokesperson for the Moscow-controlled Luhansk separatists wrote on Monday on the Telegram news service.