Russia can't figure out exactly where the borders are for the land Putin just took from Ukraine as his army is forced to retreat

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a screen set at Red Square as he addresses a rally and a concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine Russian troops occupy - Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, in central Moscow on September 30, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin on a screen in Red Square on Friday as he addressed a rally and a concert marking the annexation of four regions of Ukraine.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Image
  • Russia says it doesn't know the exact borders of the Ukrainian land Vladimir Putin just annexed.

  • A Kremlin representative said Russia would consult locals in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

  • Putin on Friday signed a decree annexing four Ukrainian regions in violation of international law.

Russia acknowledged on Monday it didn't know exactly where the borders were for the Ukrainian regions it annexed following referendums widely condemned as sham votes.

In a call with reporters, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would need to "consult" with the local populations in Ukraine's southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to determine where their borders were, according to state media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Friday annexing the Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk. The move means Russia now formally considers those regions to be Russian territory — in violation of international law — after so-called referendums that Russian authorities conducted in late September.

But while Russian troops are occupying most of the territory in those regions, Russia doesn't control them in full. According to multiple reports, Peskov said Moscow would recognize the existing borders for the east's Luhansk and Donetsk regions, while the borders for the south's Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions would remain up in the air.

Peskov's concession appeared to be a somewhat-veiled disclosure that Ukraine's advances along the war's southern front have sowed confusion and triggered uncertainty over what land Russia actually believes it controls, which in some places seems inconsistent with what it actually controls.

Notably, Putin hasn't appeared to travel anywhere near the sites of the devastating war he started back in February — a stark contrast with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has made several visits to cities and towns along the front lines.

Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, have made steady advances in the south, with Ukraine's Operational Command South saying on Monday that Russian forces had been "forced to retreat" in some areas.

"The Ukrainian offensive in the South is ongoing," Ukraine's defense ministry shared. Russia's military acknowledged on Monday that Kyiv's forces had managed to break through its defenses, the Associated Press reported.

Ukraine, along with much of the West, has decried Russia's attempt to annex the four regions — where Putin's forces have suffered significant military setbacks — as illegal and illegitimate, with top officials and heads of state saying they will never accept the outcome of any vote.

"The sham referenda held by #Russia have no legitimacy & are a blatant violation of international law," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week. "These lands are Ukraine."

The referendums in the occupied Ukrainian regions came after weeks of successful counteroffensives by Ukraine's forces, which saw Kyiv retake thousands of square miles of its occupied territory from Russia.

Putin on Friday vowed to defend the four annexed regions, even hinting that he would turn to the use of nuclear weapons. Military and Russia experts have said Putin's annexation is a clear sign Moscow is losing the seven-month war in Ukraine, but Putin isn't expected to back down.

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