There are fears Putin will use the occasion to announce an escalation of the war, or even a form of conscription to boost Russia’s battered invasion forces.
Initially scheduled for this morning (Australia time), it’s now been revealed Putin’s remarks will be delayed until tomorrow.
So far, Putin has held off against conscription despite calls for “full mobilisation” from prominent Russian hawks, amid a perception it would not be popular with the broader country.
The Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions announced the votes following a blistering Ukrainian counter-offensive that saw many Russian territorial gains at least temporarily reversed.
If Putin backs the referendums, it could become a pretext to suggest any Ukrainian attack on those conquered territories is an attack on Russia.
NATO has already dismissed the prospect of the votes as a sham.
French President Emmanuel Macron issued a blunt condemnation.
“This war launched by Russia is undermining the principle of our organisation, is undermining the only possible world order, is undermining the peace and that which underpins peace, the respect for the intangibility of borders and sovereign nations,” he said.