Russian president Vladimir Putin has formally annexed four Ukrainian territories at a ceremony in Moscow in a big escalation of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Mr Putin declared Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, largely or partly occupied by Russian or Russian-backed forces, to be part of Russia at a signing ceremony, held in defiance of international law, that took place in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
During his speech, Mr Putin also issued new nuclear threats, promising to “protect” the newly annexed lands “with all the forces and means at our disposal.”
The Russian president began the ceremony by talking about the so-called “referendums” held over the last week in order for Moscow to claim a mandate for the territorial claims. He said the “results have come through and the results are known”.
The Kremlin-orchestrated vovtes on joining Russia were strongly dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a barefaced land grab, held at gunpoint and based o incorporation of the four regions into Russia “is the will of millions of people” and it is their “integral right” as stated in the UN charter.
However, Mr Putin said the incorporation of the four regions into Russia “is the will of millions of people” and it is their “integral right” as stated in the UN charter.
The “destruction” of the Soviet Union “destroyed the connections between different parts” of the country, Mr Putin said, adding that despite all the difficulties, they have carried through a love for Russia.
Mr Putin said he is “not aiming” to return to the past and to rebuild the Soviet Union but claims there is “nothing stronger than the will of these people to come back to their historic roots”.
The Russian president went on to call on Ukraine to immediately cease all military actions and the war “that they began in 2014″, referring to the 2014 conflict in eastern Ukraine which began after a pro-Russian president was toppled in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and Russia annexed Crimea.
Since Mr Putin’s speech, the EU has condemned the illegal annexation and has said Russia is “putting global security at risk”.
“We do not and will never recognise the illegal ‘referenda’ that Russia has engineered as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine’s independence,” a statement from the members of the European Council said.
“In the face of Russia’s war of aggression as well as Moscow’s latest escalation, the European Union stands resolutely with Ukraine and its people. We are unwavering in our support to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
The statement added that the EU will now look to increase pressure on Russia through strengthening “restrictive measures”, and the bloc will “continue to provide strong economic, military, social and financial support to Ukraine for as long as it takes”.
Taking Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia together, Russia is annexing at least 40,000 square miles of eastern and southern Ukraine, about 15 per cent of Ukraine’s total area, equal to the size of Portugal or Serbia.
Kyiv has indicated it will fight to reclaim all of its lands. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, promised a strong response to the annexations and has convened an emergency meeting with his defence and security chiefs.
While announcing the annexation, the Russian leader also directly accused the United States and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines.
“The sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons, they moved on to sabotage,” Mr Putin said. “It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they organised the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipelines.
“They began to destroy the pan-European energy infrastructure,” he continued. “It is clear to everyone who benefits from this. Of course, he who benefits did it.”
A pop concert will be held in Moscow on Friday evening in Red Square, where a stage has been constructed with giant electronic billboards proclaiming “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson — Russia!”.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr Putin would attend the concert, as he did a similar event in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. — Agencies