Russia officially annexes 4 Ukraine regions, may grab more
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws that claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russia’s territory on Wednesday, while his country’s military struggled to control the illegally annexed areas. In a defiant move, the Kremlin held the door open for further land grabs in Ukraine.
Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that “certain territories will be reclaimed, and we will keep consulting residents who would be eager to embrace Russia.”
Putin last week signed treaties that purport to absorb Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions into Russia. The move followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in Ukraine that the Ukrainian government and the West have dismissed as illegitimate.
Peskov did not specify which additional Ukrainian territories Moscow is eyeing and he wouldn’t say if the Kremlin planned to organize more such “referendums.”
Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would stabilize the situation in the regions, an indirect acknowledgement of the challenges it faces to assert its control.
The Russian moves come as momentum in the war has clearly swung in Ukraine’s favour since the start of September.
Thousands of Russian troops fled their positions after the front line crumbled — first in the northeast and, since the start of this week, in the south.
“We proceed from the fact that the situation will be stabilized, we will be able to calmly develop these territories,” Putin said in televised remarks.
The Russian leader, speaking at an award ceremony for teachers, also said he had great respect for the Ukrainian people.
“We always, and even today despite the current tragedy, hold great respect for the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian culture, language, literature and so on,” Putin said.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since Putin ordered Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
The annexation is Europe’s biggest since the Second World War and represents up to 18 per cent of Ukraine, some of which Moscow’s forces do not control. If Crimea is added, which Russia annexed in 2014, Moscow is laying claim to 22 per cent of Ukraine, though it has yet to spell out where all of the borders will be located.
Putin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory — including the annexed regions — with any means at his military’s disposal, including nuclear weapons.
Kyiv, meanwhile, said it will never accept an illegal imperial-style land grab and has recaptured much of its own territory in recent weeks.
The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, Andriy Yermak, wrote on his Telegram channel shortly after Putin signed the annexation legislation that “the worthless decisions of the terrorist country are not worth the paper they are signed on.”
Zelenskyy responded to the annexation by announcing Ukraine’s fast-track application to join NATO. In a decree released Tuesday, he also ruled out negotiations with Russia.
In his nightly address, Zelenskyy switched to Russian to tell the Kremlin that it has already lost because it still has to explain to Russian society why the war and the mobilization are necessary.
“And more and more citizens of Russia are realizing that they must die simply because one person does not want to end the war,” Zelenskyy said.
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