Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday formally signed the annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. His announcement came at a ceremony where the leaders of the regions are expected to sign treaties that will formalise their inclusion into the Russian Federation. 

“People who live in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, now they have become citizens forever,” said in a televised address from the Kremlin, adding, “The choice was made and Russia will not betray this choice.”

In addition, Putin said that while he was willing to negotiate with Ukraine, the four regions were non-negotiable and their sovereignty was off the table. “I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me. For everyone to remember. People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever,” Putin said. 

The ceremony and Putin’s televised address come just three days after the conclusion of hastily organised ‘referendums’ which the West and Ukraine have denounced as a sham. 

Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson combined make up 15% of Ukraine’s territory. Officials in the regions had announced shortly after the referendum that most of the people in the now-annexed areas supported the vote. According to them, 93% of Zaphrizhzhia’s residents wanted to cede to Russia, with similar numbers reported in Kherson (87%), Luhansk (98%) and Donetsk (99%). 

 With the annexation of the four regions, Russia now has a land bridge to Crimea, an area that it annexed back in 2014. The move triggered sanctions from the West. 

Earlier this week as the referendums ended, many Western countries condemned the move, so did some of Russia’s neighbours like Estonia. 

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Business Insider that the country would not recognise what he termed as “illegal annexation.”

This might prove to be a boost to Russian morale in some ways as well, even though Putin’s September 21 announcement of partial mobilisation did not resonate with a chunk of the population.