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Ukraine war: Putin marks one year since illegal ‘annexation’ of Ukrainian regions

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In an address marking a year since the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Putin insisted it was carried out “in full accordance with international norms.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin during the anniversary of the referendum called illegal by the UN in four Ukrainian regions one year ago, in Moscow, Sept. 30, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday insisted that the residents of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed one year ago “made their choice – to be with their Fatherland.”

In an address released to mark the first anniversary of the annexation, Putin insisted that the annexations were carried out “in full accordance with international norms.”

He also claimed that residents of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions had again expressed their desire to be part of Russia in local elections earlier this month.

Russia’s Central Election Commission said the country’s ruling party won the most votes.

The West has denounced both the referendum votes carried out last year and the recent ballots as a sham. The votes were held as Russian authorities attempted to tighten their grip on territories Moscow illegally annexed a year ago and still does not fully control.

A concert was held in Red Square on Friday to mark the anniversary, but Putin did not participate.

Russian border region suffers power outage after attack

Local officials in Russia’s Bryank region bordering Ukraine reported disruptions to the power supply on Saturday following an unspecified attack on the town of Pogar.

One person was reportedly injured, and local power supplies were said to have been disrupted. Drone strikes and shelling in the Russian border regions are a regular occurrence.

Russia’s Defence Ministry, meanwhile, has released a video purporting to show one of its fighter jets shooting down a Ukrainian aircraft. Moscow also released footage claiming to show self-propelled howitzer crews in the frontline area of Kupiansk, in the Kharkiv region.

Romania launches Russian drone probe

Elsewhere, Romania’s Ministry of Defence said on Saturday it is investigating a possible Russian violation of its airspace after detecting several drones heading towards Ukraine.

It said the radar surveillance system of the Romanian Army detected “a possible unauthorised entry” into the national airspace of NATO member Romania, with a signal detected toward the city of Galati, which is close to the border with Ukraine.

“At this moment, no objects have been identified that fell from the airspace onto the national territory,” the statement read, adding that NATO allies were informed in real-time and that searches continued through Saturday.

Emergency authorities issued text message alerts overnight to residents living in the counties of Galati and Tulcea, after detecting what the defence ministry said was “groups of drones heading toward Ukrainian territory” near the border.

In recent weeks, Romania has found drone fragments on its soil from the war next door at least three times as Russian forces carry out sustained attacks on Ukraine’s Danube ports.

Russian defence spending set to surge – reports

Documents, apparently leaked from Russia’s Finance Ministry, suggest that Russia’s defence spending is set to surge to approximately 30 percent of total public expenditure in 2024.

The ministry proposes a defence budget of 10.8 trillion roubles, equivalent to approximately 6 percent of GDP and a 68 per cent increase over 2023.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence say it’s highly likely that Russia can support this level of defence spending through 2024, but only at the expense of the wider economy.

Full details on Russian defence spending are always classified, but these figures suggest that Russia is preparing for multiple further years of fighting in Ukraine.

This follows public comments by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on 27 September 2023, suggesting he was prepared for the conflict to continue into 20