LONDON (Reuters) - Pro-Russian officials in four partially Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine declared that voters had chosen to join Russia, in hastily organised referendums which the West said were illegal - what happens now?
President Vladimir Putin has said he will never abandon the residents of these areas. Ukraine says Russia is a criminal state stealing its sovereign territory.
WHAT WERE THE PUBLISHED RESULTS?
- Donetsk People's Republic (DPR): 99.23% for joining Russia, 0.62% against. A total of 2.13 million people voted in total, 97.5 of voters.
- Luhansk People's Republic (LNR): 98.42% for joining Russia.
- Russian-controlled Kherson region: 87.05% for joining Russia.
- Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia: 93.11% for joining Russia.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Things will move swiftly.
The leaders of the Russian-backed separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk said they had already appealed to Putin for Russia to admit them. Russian-installed officials of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia said they will officially ask to join Russia.
Putin will speak at some point.
To annex the territories some sort of treaty will be struck and ratified by the Russian parliament, which is controlled by Putin allies. The areas will then be seen as part of Russia and Moscow's nuclear umbrella will extend to them.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has repeatedly said that "pseudo-referendums" on annexation by Russia would destroy any chance of peace talks.
WHAT WILL THE WEST DO?
- The West and Ukraine say Russia is violating international law by taking 15% of Ukrainian territory, whose post-Soviet borders Moscow recognised shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The West could increase arms supplies to Kyiv, and tighten financial sanctions that are already the most severe imposed against a large economy in modern history.
- The areas that are being annexed are not all under control of Russian forces. So, from a Kremlin perspective, once they do become part of Russia, then fighting and a front line will run through Russian sovereign territory. That could prompt some sort of ultimatum from Russia to Ukraine and the West.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff)