Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Friday to declare four Ukrainian regions part of Russia as the Kremlin seeks to bolster its tenuous control over Ukrainian territory through illegal annexation widely decried.
“This is the will of millions of people,” he said. “This is their right, their inalienable right.”
The Russian leader spoke in the chandelier-adorned St. George’s Hall of the Grand Kremlin – the same place he declared in March 2014 Ukraine’s Crimea is part of Russia.
Hundreds of Russian parliament members and regional governors sat in the audience for Mr. Putin’s speech, as well as several of his cabinet ministers and the four Russian-imposed leaders of the occupied Ukrainian regions.
Ukraine and its Western partners have called the annexation illegal, with the Biden administration saying it is ready to impose additional sanctions on Russia if it continues. As Mr Putin spoke, EU leaders issued a statement saying they “strongly reject and categorically condemn” the annexation.
Putin declared the Western elites to be the “enemy” who seeks to destroy Russia. Putin said they “want to see us as a colony.” “It is very important to them that all nations give up their sovereignty in favor of the United States.”
He undertook a series of Western military actions spanning centuries – from the British Opium War in 19th century China to the incendiary Allied attacks on Germany, Vietnam and the Korean War.
He said that the United States was the only country that used nuclear weapons in the war. “By the way, they created a precedent,” he added.
As the Kremlin planned Detailed partyRussia launched a whirlwind of strikes against Ukrainian towns and cities overnight from Thursday to Friday, including Attack on Zaporizhzhia which Ukrainian officials said killed 25 civilians – a reminder of its determination to continue the fight.
These moves are part of a carefully orchestrated process designed to provide an outward appearance of legitimacy for the annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine and Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces in the south.
“People who live in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya became our citizens — forever,” Mr. Putin said. “We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately cease fire and all military actions.”
Ukraine vowed not to recognize the illegal annexation, and vowed to restore all the territories occupied by Russia. President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Russia will not get new territory for Ukraine” He said in his night speech. “Russia will inflict itself on the catastrophe that it has brought upon the occupied territories of our country.”
Friday’s events include a celebration on Red Square. Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said that the official ratification of the decrees will take place next week.
These moves come in the wake of interim referendums held in the occupied territories during a war in defiance of international law. Much of the county’s civilian population has fled the fighting since the war began in February, and people who voted have sometimes done so at gunpoint.
However, the annexations are in the Kremlin’s best interest. Russia only partially occupies the four provinces, and Putin and his top aides have assured that Moscow will then defend its territory against Ukraine’s attacks, and not the other way around.
Consolidating Russia’s control over the two eastern regions, an area collectively known as the Donbass that Putin sees as his primary prize, may allow the Kremlin to declare victory at a time when Russia hawks have criticized Russian forces for not doing enough to prevent the recent surprise gains of Ukrainian forces in the country’s south and northeast.
But Mr. Putin nonetheless faces huge hurdles to reassert control over an increasingly chaotic war, including the recent conscription of hundreds of thousands of civilians into military service that has faced opposition in Russia.
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