Russian president Vladimir Putin was poised to sign laws formally annexing four regions of Ukraine, as his troops lost more territory in those areas and Kyiv decreed that it would never hold peace talks with him.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament unanimously backed the country’s claim to sovereignty over the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, and Mr Putin was expected to complete the process with his signature later on Tuesday.
Yet the annexation breaches international law and has been rejected by Ukraine, western states and top United Nations officials, and ignored by most of Moscow’s few allies, while Russia’s troops are being driven back on what is now supposedly its own territory.
Ukrainian troops posted footage online on Tuesday of the nation’s blue-and-yellow flag being hoisted in Davydiv Brid and other newly liberated villages in Kherson region, most of which has been under Russia’s control since shortly after its full invasion in February.
“Ukrainian marines are confidently advancing towards the Black Sea,” Kyiv’s defence ministry said on Twitter.
Kyiv’s soldiers also retook more villages in Kharkiv province and strengthened their positions around Lyman in the north of Donetsk region, which they liberated during a swift counter-offensive that forced Russian troops into retreat and put some of their supply lines in Donetsk and Luhansk region in jeopardy.
Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, said he hoped Ukrainian forces would soon be in a position to try to reclaim Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, cities in the region that Russia occupied this summer after weeks of heavy fighting and major destruction.
“Soon we will ask the population of the occupied territories to evacuate from the cities, so they are not injured during the counterattack,” he said on social media.
“People will be able to spend the winter only in villages. After deoccupation, people living in cities will not be able to stay for winter ... The centralised heating system cannot be repaired so quickly.”
Moscow appointees in occupied areas acknowledge some of the progress made in recent days by Ukraine’s forces, while insisting that Russia’s military is conducting a controlled withdrawal to pre-prepared positions and inflicting heavy damage on the enemy with artillery fire.
The Kremlin acknowledged on Monday that it was not sure which parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas it now supposedly possessed, after staged referendums in occupied areas and the signing of annexation documents by Mr Putin on Friday, when he said all of those two regions, and Donetsk and Luhansk, were now Russian territory “forever”.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced immediately after Mr Putin’s annexation ceremony that he was submitting a formal bid for Nato membership under an accelerated process, and said that while Kyiv was open to dialogue with Russia, it would never hold talks with Mr Putin.
He signed a decree on Tuesday that was prepared by Ukraine’s national security and defence council, one clause of which states “the impossibility of conducting negotiations with the president of the Russian Federation V. Putin.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would “now wait either until the incumbent Ukrainian president changes his position, or until there is another president in Ukraine who will change his position for the sake of the Ukrainian people.”
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said more than 200,000 of a planned 300,000 people had been drafted into the military since Mr Putin ordered “partial mobilisation” of reservists a fortnight ago — about the same number of Russian citizens who have fled to Kazakhstan during the same period, with tens of thousands of others entering Georgia, Finland and other states to escape conscription.
US president Joe Biden pledged on Tuesday to continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.
He said the US would provide a new $625 million security assistance package that included additional weapons and equipment, including Himars rocket launchers, artillery systems and ammunition, and armored vehicles.
President Biden also “affirmed the continued readiness of the United States to impose severe costs on any individual, entity, or country that provides support to Russia’s purported annexation”.