Putin Under Pressure to Fold Ukrainian Territory Into Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing some pressure to fully incorporate occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia, particularly in southern Ukraine.

Volodymyr Saldo, who was appointed by Russian forces to lead the southern Kherson region after they gained control of it during the invasion, said that Kherson will become part of Russia and that a budget has already been approved in rubles, according to social media. The post was published on the Telegram page of the Kherson region's "Civil-Military Administration," but its contents were attributed to Saldo.

Similarly, Georgy Muradov, deputy prime minister of Crimea's government and Crimea's permanent representative to Russia, told Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti in an interview Thursday that he believes the "liberated territories" in southern Ukraine "will become another region of Russia."

The prospect of Russia officially incorporating areas it controls in southern Ukraine comes as a debate has reportedly emerged in NATO circles on whether Russia could actually lose territory in the war. An unnamed NATO official told CNN that Ukrainian forces could ultimately retake Crimea and the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. But officially incorporating any Ukrainian territory would be a major win for Russia, especially amid reports that Putin's forces have been forced to go on the defensive in some parts of the country.

Putin Pressured to Incorporate Kherson
Russian President Vladimir Putin may be under pressure to fully incorporate occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia, particularly in the southern Kherson region. Above, Russian servicemen on a roadside in the Kherson region on May 19. Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Putin himself has not publicly addressed whether he will try to fold parts of southern Ukraine into Russia. But the Kremlin has said that residents living in the Kherson region should decide whether they want to be part of Russia, Reuters reported.

In his interview with Ria Novosti, Muradov said that communications with inhabitants of the occupied territories in southern Ukraine indicated that joining Russian is their "will." He said that "most" of the residents "lived for eight years under conditions of repression and bullying by the [Ukrainian Nazis]."

"Russia will no longer allow the fundamental rights of our compatriots to be violated, to shoot at the Russian world with impunity at the behest of the West," he added.

A map based on assessments of territorial control in Ukraine, which is published and updated by the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, shows that Russia currently holds a strip of land along parts of Ukraine's eastern and southern borders.

This includes Crimea; the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics in the Donbas, which are occupied by pro-Russian separatists; and the Kherson region. Reported Ukrainian counteroffensives are taking place near the city of Kharkiv and what appears to be the outskirts of the Kherson region, according to the map.

In a video shared by Ukraine's Defense Ministry Sunday, troops from a Kharkiv region territorial defense unit said they had pushed all the way to Russia's border.

Newsweek reached out to the Kremlin and Ukraine's Foreign Ministry for comment.