Moscow: Vladimir Putin vowed his annexation of four regions in Ukraine is irreversible, accusing the West of trying to subjugate his country.
“They will become our citizens forever,” he told officials in a Kremlin ceremony Friday before he and pro-Moscow leaders signed annexation documents. He demanded Ukraine stop fighting and begin talks, but refused to negotiate about the lands he’s absorbing.
Putin signs treaties to annex Ukrainian lands
Putin later signed treaties to annex four regions partly occupied by his forces.
"This is the will of millions of people," he said in a speech before hundreds of dignitaries in the St George's Hall of the Kremlin. "People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever."
At a ceremony that Kyiv called a "Kremlin freak show" devoid of legal meaning, Putin delivered a 37-minute diatribe against the West, accusing it of "sheer Satanism", before signing the treaty documents with the Russian-backed heads of the four entities.
They then all clasped hands and chanted "Russia! Russia!" in unison with hundreds of dignitaries, who rose in a standing ovation.
The ceremony took place three days after the completion of hastily staged so-called referendums in which Moscow's proxies in the occupied regions claimed majorities of up to 99 per cent in favour of joining Russia.
Ukraine and Western governments said the votes, announced only 10 days ago, had been conducted at gunpoint and were bogus and illegitimate.
Ukraine, the United States and the head of the United Nations had all said the annexation ceremony would have no legal value.
Putin urged Ukraine to cease military action and return to the negotiating table. Kyiv has vowed to recapture all the lands seized by Russia and said that Russia's decision to annex the territories has destroyed any prospect of talks.
The annexations mean that Russia, which had already seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, now lays claim to some 22 per cent of Ukraine's territory, including parts that it does not control.
In his speech, he evoked the memory of Russian heroes from the 18th century to World War Two and repeated familiar accusations against the West, accusing it of colonial practices and recalling the use of nuclear weapons by the United States against Japan, which he called a "precedent", at the end of World War Two.
The annexations mean that the front lines of the war will now run through territory that Russia is declaring as its own and that Putin has said he is ready to defend with nuclear weapons if necessary.
Some Western politicians called that a bluff - something Putin explicitly denied. The United States says it has warned Russia of catastrophic consequences if it does use a nuclear weapon.
The ceremony took place three days after the completion of hastily staged referendums in which Moscow’s proxies in the occupied regions claimed majorities of up to 99 per cent in favour of joining Russia.
Ukraine and Western governments described those votes as bogus, illegitimate and conducted at gunpoint.
In a speech repeatedly interrupted by applause, Putin declared that Russia had four new regions.
He urged Ukraine to cease military action and return to the negotiating table. Kyiv has vowed to recapture all the lands seized by Russia and said that Russia’s decision to annex the territories had destroyed any prospect of talks.“Referendums have taken place ... their results are well-known.” “People have made their choice ... This is an inalienable right, which is enshrined in Article 1 of the UN Charter.” “People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever.”
“We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table.”
“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means”.
West trying to weaken Russia
“After the collapse of the USSR, the West decided that the world would forever have to put up with its dictates ... the West expected that Russia would not be able to cope with such dictates and fall apart ... but Russia has been reborn and strengthened.”
“The West continues to look for new chances to weaken and destroy Russia.”
Putin directly accused “Anglo-Saxon” powers of blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines.
“The sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved onto sabotage,” Putin said. “It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they organised the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipeline.”
The ceremony comes three days after the completion of referendums on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West.
Both houses of the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament will meet next week to rubber-stamp the treaties for the regions to join Russia, sending them to Putin for his approval.
Ukraine announces fast-track Nato membership bid
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership of the Nato military alliance and that Kyiv was ready for talks with Moscow, but not with President Vladimir Putin.
The Ukrainian leader made his comments in a video which appeared intended as a forceful rebuttal to the Kremlin after Putin held a ceremony in Moscow to proclaim four Ukrainian regions as annexed Russian land.
“We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to Nato,” Zelenskiy said in a video on Telegram.
The video showed Zelensky announcing the membership bid and then signing a document flanked by his prime minister and the speaker of parliament.
US announces sanctions
The United States on Friday imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia over its declared annexation of a swath of Ukraine, targeting hundreds of people and companies, including those in Russia’s military-industrial complex and members of the legislature.
“We will not stand by as Putin fraudulently attempts to annex parts of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“The United States unequivocally rejects Russia’s fraudulent attempt to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including by holding sham ‘referenda’,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
EU rejects Russia’s ‘illegal annexation’ in Ukraine
EU leaders on Friday vowed they would “never recognise” Russia’s illegal annexation of four more regions in Ukraine and accused the Kremlin of imperilling global security.
“We firmly reject and unequivocally condemn the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions,” the 27 leaders said.
Their statement was released as Russian President Vladimir Putin formally signed an accord that sees Moscow lay claim to the occupied territories.
“Russia is putting global security at risk,” the EU leaders said, accusing Moscow of “wilfully undermining the rules-based international order and blatantly violating the fundamental rights of Ukraine to independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, core principles as enshrined in the UN Charter and international law”.
The leaders dismissed the “illegal” referendums staged by the Kremlin to justify its land grab and called on “all states and international organisations to unequivocally reject this illegal annexation”.
The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
“These decisions are null and void and cannot produce any legal effect whatsoever. Crimea, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk are Ukraine,” the EU statement said.
The bloc said it remains committed to supporting Ukraine’s “legitimate right” to regain control of all its territory within its internationally recognised borders.
Putin has warned he could use nuclear weapons to retain control of the territory.
“The nuclear threats made by the Kremlin, the military mobilisation and the strategy of seeking to falsely present Ukraine’s territory as Russia’s and purporting that the war may now be taking place on Russia’s territory will not shake our resolve,” the EU leaders said.
The EU has slapped repeated waves of unprecedented sanctions on Moscow over its war in Ukraine and has spent billions of euros on weapons for Kyiv.
The bloc is currently eyeing a new wave of economic measures against the Kremlin that would target Moscow’s exports worth some $7 billion and seek to impose a price cap on Russian oil.
“We will strengthen our restrictive measures countering Russia’s illegal actions. They will further increase pressure on Russia to end its war of aggression,” the statement said.