Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a decree that will annex four Ukrainian territories into the Russian Federation in a move that was condemned by Western powers.
The order will impact the disputed regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Starting about a week ago, residents of those areas signed referendums, although U.S. and European Union officials claimed it was a sham.
“You know that referendums have taken place,” Putin said Friday at a ceremony in the Kremlin, according to state-run media. “The results have been calculated. The results are known. People have made their choice, an unequivocal choice.”
Describing the votes as “the will of millions of people,” Putin said that people “living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever.”
In February, the Kremlin recognized the disputed Donbass areas of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states and accused Ukraine’s government of failing to implement earlier agreements that would give those regions special status following widespread protests in Kyiv in 2014. Days later, Putin on Feb. 24 announced the invasion of Ukraine, describing it as a “special military operation.”
“We will always remember the heroes of the Russian Spring,” Putin said in reference to incidents in 2014, including protests against Ukraine’s government in the Donbass and Crimea—which Russia ultimately annexed.
Read More: Putin Announces Official Annexation of 4 Ukrainian Territories