What does ‘annex’ mean in war? Can Russia claim Ukraine territory, which parts of the country ‘held votes’

Russia is no stranger to annexing Ukraine, holding a similar referendum after invading Crimea in 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that Russia has “four new regions” after signing a decree annexing occupied territories in Ukraine.

In what the West has called an “illegal annexation”, the regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been formally annexed into Russia.

Ukraine has said the move “grossly violate the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter”.

But what does annexation mean and can Russia claim Ukrainian territory? Here’s everything you need to know.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea in a similar “referendum” (Pic: Getty Images)

What does annex mean?

Annexation is when another state or country declares control over land outside of its borders, with the country then adapting the new land into their territory.

Russia is no stranger to annexing Ukraine, in 2014 they annexed Crimea after invading the region when Ukraine removed its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Growing fears that Russia would annex the areas of Ukraine it occupied after it invaded in February have become true.

Putin has declared that Russia has “four new regions” after carrying out referendums that the West have labelled a “sham”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signs a treaty formally annexing four regions of Ukraine (Pic: SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Can Russia claim Ukrainian territory?

Russia has annexed four regions in Ukraine after it held “refrendums” largely believed to be a sham.

According to a statement from the The United Nations, the “so-called ‘referenda’ cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will”.

The UN explained that the ballots violate international law and that: “the United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Whilst Russia has claimed the territory, it’s unlikely this will be recognised by other countries around the world.

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, only six countries recognised this: Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

Where were votes ‘held’?

Russian “referendums” were held in four regions throughout Ukraine including Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia.

The UN confirmed that “authorities accompanied by soldiers also went door-to-door with ballot boxes.”

Whilst Ukraine and Western governments said the referendums had been conducted at gunpoint and were not legitimate.

According to i News, Russian officials have confirmed that 93% of votes in Zaporizhzhia were in favour of annexation, whilst it was 87% in Kherson, 98% in Luhansk and 99% in Donetsk.

People crowd at Manezhnaya Square in central Moscow for a rally and a concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine (Pic: AFP via Getty Images)

What has Ukraine said?

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed a “tough” military response following the annexation.

Taking to social media Zelenskyy thanked the UN and reiterated that the annexation would not be recognised by the World.

His caption read: “I appreciate the clear position of UN Secretary-General @antonioguterres on the criminal intention of RF to illegally annex more Ukrainian lands: such actions won’t have any legal force, grossly violate the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter and won’t be recognized by the world.”

As well as Ukraine, the European Council has made a statement rejecting the annexation.

The European Council said “we firmly reject and unequivocally condemn” adding that Russia had “blatantly” violated the “fundamental rights of Ukraine to independence” and would “never recognise this illegal annexation.”

President of the EU Council Charles Michael shared a video statement on Twitter declaring the EU would “never recognise” the annexed regions as part of Russia, along with Crimea.

He posted the video along with the caption: “We must mobilise. Not for war. But to preserve peace, security and prosperity. Everyone has a role to play.”