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Kremlin to declare Ukraine regions 'formal integration' into Russia on Friday

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov

Kremlin says it will formalize integration into Russia of four Ukrainian regions that have voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the Russian Federation.

Speaking on Thursday, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the process is slated to take place at Kremlin on Friday, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin is to deliver a "major" address to mark the occasion.

Peskov identified the regions in question as Donetsk and Luhansk, which are located in eastern Ukraine, as well as Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south of the ex-Soviet republic.

Later on Thursday, Putin signed decrees paving the way for Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally incorporated into Russia territory.

The referendums were held across the foursome regions over five days earlier this month.

The plebiscites harked back to a similar vote that was held in 2014, during which Ukraine's Crimea peninsula voted to join Russia.

Together the five regions make up some 20 percent of Ukraine's soil.

Kiev and its Western allies, though, describe the votes as "sham."

The referendums came amid an ongoing "special military operation" that Russia launched in February against Ukraine in order to “demilitarize” Donbas, which is made up of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics.

Back in 2014, the republics broke away from Ukraine, refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government there that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.

Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

The United States and the European Union have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow since the onset of the Russian operation.

The Western states have also been accommodating Ukraine generously with advanced weapons in a move that Moscow says only draws out the conflict.

Also on Thursday, the United States Senate approved $12 billion in new economic and military aid to Ukraine as part of a stopgap budget extension.

Earlier in September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the US and its European allies were trying to prolong fighting in Ukraine in order to weaken Russia.

The countries in question were "pumping Ukraine full of weapons, [and] training their soldiers,” the Russian top diplomat told a gathering of the United Nations Security Council. They are doing so to “drag out the fighting as long as possible in spite of the victims in order to wear down and weaken Russia," he added.

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