Putin seals the annexation of four regions in Ukraine
(Reuters) – Vladimir Putin formalized on Friday the annexation by Russia of four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine consulted by referendum, in the name of the “right to self-determination of peoples”, an initiative immediately condemned by Westerners considering new sanctions against Moscow.
This proclamation, a sign of the Russian President’s determination, came three days after the end of the referendums organized in the four regions concerned (Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporijjia) – and not recognized by the international community – which ended in a “yes” to attachment to Moscow by some 99%.
The United States and its allies “will not be intimidated” by Russia, US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“We will continue to provide Ukraine with the equipment it needs to defend itself,” added Joe Biden, denouncing Russia’s desire to “redesign the borders of its neighbor”.
Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky announced that he was going to submit a request for accelerated NATO membership in response to the formalization of this annexation.
Atlantic Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has accused Vladimir Putin of causing the “serious escalation” of the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The 27 member states of the European Union condemned the initiative in a joint statement and reaffirmed that they would “never” recognize the referendums which constitute “a new violation of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. The results of these consultations, they point out, are “falsified and illegal”.
Emmanuel Macron denounced “a serious violation of international law as well as Ukrainian sovereignty”, adding that France would stand “at the side of Ukraine to face Russia’s aggression and recover its full sovereignty over the whole of its territory”.
“OUR CITIZENS FOREVER”
“It is the will of millions of people,” said Vladimir Putin during an official ceremony in the presence of hundreds of dignitaries within the framework of the hall of the Order of Saint George, in the Kremlin.
“The inhabitants of Lugansk (Louhansk in Ukrainian-Editor’s note), Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporijjia become our citizens forever”, he added, adding that the populations had voted “unequivocally” for “a common future”.
“Four new Russian regions” will thus be formed, he said, before signing documents formalizing the annexation alongside the four representatives of the territories who came to Moscow.
We will defend these lands “with all our strength and by all means”, he insisted, speaking of a fight “for a great historical Russia” against “Western hegemony” and the “neocolonial model”.
“Welcome home,” the head of the Kremlin announced a few hours later to thousands of spectators invited to attend a patrotic pop concert in Red Square on a large stage adorned with national colors. “Victory is ours,” said Vladimir Putin.
The inhabitants of the annexed regions have chosen to join their “mother country”, declared the Russian president before encouraging the crowd to cheer the annexation and the “sacrifice” of the Russian soldiers by “hoorays”, to cries of “Rosia!” (Russia).
More than 15% of Ukrainian territory thus falls under the administrative control of Moscow, after Crimea in 2014 (a total of some 18%).
Moscow claims about 109,000 km² of Ukrainian territory, but some areas are not occupied by the Russian army.
If Russia controls almost all of Luhansk, its forces occupy only about 60% of that of Donetsk.
Asked what would happen to areas that are not currently under Russian control, Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, said Friday before Vladimir Putin’s speech: “They must be liberated”.
Ukrainian forces, for their part, said they completed the encirclement of the town of Lyman, in the north of the Donetsk region, on Friday.
Vladimir Putin, applauded several times during the ceremony in the Kremlin, called on Ukraine, invaded by the Russian army on February 24, to “a ceasefire” and to return to the negotiating table.
Ukraine is ready to negotiate with Russia when the latter has “changed its president”, replied Volodimir Zelensky in a recorded statement.
“kyiv (Kyiv in Ukrainian-Editor’s note) must respect the choice of this people, it is the only way to peace”, assured Vladimir Putin.
“The Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore, we can’t go back to the past anymore, but Russia doesn’t need it anymore, doesn’t need that anymore,” he said.
During his 37-minute speech, the Kremlin leader went on a violent rant against the West, accused of “satanism”, “denial of human beings” and violation of moral and family values.
“Do we want in our country, instead of having a father and a mother, we have a parent n°1 and a parent n°2? (…) That we talk to our children about the operations of change of sex?”, he launched, judging that the “propaganda” of the “dictatorship of the dollar” masked the truth.
Russophobia at work in the world is “racism”, he denounced.
In addition, the Russian leader again accused Westerners of being behind the four major leaks detected on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, citing “explosions”.
(Reuters offices, French version Sophie Louet and Jean-Stéphane Brosse, editing by Kate Entringer and Tangi Salaün)