Russian state media say election commissions in four occupied regions of Ukraine have returned majorities in favor of joining the Russian Federation, following referendums described as a “sham” by Western governments and Kyiv.

The so-called referendums — called at short notice by pro-Russian authorities in occupied areas of Ukraine — are against international law and have been widely condemned by Western governments. They were not observed by independent monitors. 

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said that the commissions had published the results of referendums in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. It did not say whether these were the final results.

The referendum plans were suddenly announced a week ago by Russian-backed local administrations and immediately welcomed in Moscow. 

Ukrainian officials say that turnout has been extremely low and that pro-Russian voters have been bused in from Crimea. 

“The results are obvious. Welcome home to Russia!” said Dmitriy Medvedev, the former Russian president who is now the deputy chairman of the country’s Security Council, responding to the state media reports.

Officials anticipate Russia could now move quickly to annex the four areas, potentially within days. Such a move could provide Moscow with a pretext to escalate its faltering war, which has seen Kyiv regain thousands of square miles of territory this month.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov previously indicated that if the regions announced majorities in favor of joining Russia, the ratification process would be fast and they could become part of the Russian Federation “quite soon.” 

Asked if that would mean any attempt by Ukraine to regain the territories would be regarded as an attack on Russian territory, Peskov said: “Of course.”

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