AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has scheduled an elaborate ceremony and speech at the Kremlin on Friday to proclaim that four regions in Ukraine are now part of Russia. Putin's annexation plan is roundly condemned by Ukraine and the West, and it's likely to make it much harder to find a solution to the war in Ukraine. For more, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: OK, so can you just first walk us through exactly what we expect to happen on Friday?
MYRE: Well, big banners have already gone up in Red Square, just outside the Kremlin. Putin's spokesman has promised a major speech tomorrow. There's a rally and a concert planned. Russia wants to make this a big celebration. And this follows these referendums on joining Russia that Moscow staged in eastern and southern Ukraine over the past week, which were widely condemned as illegitimate. As we know, Russia's been moving in this direction of annexation, so it doesn't really come as a complete surprise. But it could be hugely significant as we look at how the war might eventually end. Anatol Lieven, who's at the Quincy Institute in Washington, put it this way.
ANATOL LIEVEN: If Putin annexes, I think formal peace negotiations as such are dead for the foreseeable future because, I mean, it will be extremely difficult for any Russian government to give this up if the Russian parliament has voted to annex it.
CHANG: Well, in practical terms, what will this mean for people living in these regions that Russia plans to annex?
MYRE: Russia has already been treating them more or less as Russian territory. They're run by local officials aligned with Russia. The Ukrainians who have stayed have been given Russian passports. Russian currency is used for transaction. Russian media and telephone connections are in place. But we should stress Russia doesn't control all four of these regions or all of the territory. Ukraine still has some of it and has actually been pushing back the Russians in some places. So Russians' sudden urgency in pushing through the referendums and annexing this territory seem to be an attempt to claim this territory, claim a victory, before it could actually be lost on the battlefield.
CHANG: Right. OK, but what are the - like, the political or military risks here for Putin, you think?
MYRE: Well, he's really making huge gambles on two fronts. With the annexation, he's taking a big political risk. He knows he'll get serious blowback from the West. Some additional sanctions already seem to be in the works. And with this ongoing effort to mobilize some 300,000 troops, he's taking a big military risk. He's making it clear that he's all-in on the war. Anatol Lieven believes Putin is taking these chances because the war has gone so badly for Russia.
LIEVEN: They may keep, eventually, these bits that they've occupied. But 85% of Ukraine by now I think is inevitably going to be complete - not just completely independent of Russia, but deeply hostile to Russia for all foreseeable time.
CHANG: Well, beyond condemnation, how are Ukraine and its supporters right now responding to all of this?
MYRE: You know, Ukraine hasn't said a whole lot just yet. President Zelenskyy planned a meeting Friday with his National Security Council. I think we'll get a signal then. He's working, certainly, with the U.S. and its - and allies to formulate a response. Just this afternoon, President Biden called the Russian move an absolute sham. And the U.S. yesterday announced another $1.1 billion in military aid. It includes both immediate and longer-term assistance. And on the battlefield, Ukraine is still making some limited advances in the east and the south, and there could be some more pushes to come before the winter sets in.
CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you, Greg.
MYRE: My pleasure.
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