Putin officially signed and declared the annexation of four regions of Ukraine.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw a ceremony to annex four regions of Ukraine that were temporarily controlled by his forces. This escalated the conflict’s seven-month duration and entered an unpredictable new phase.
“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.
The event took place three days after the completion of hastily staged so-called referendums in which Moscow’s proxies in the seized territories claimed majorities of up to 99% 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 have all said the annexation ceremony has no legal value, with Kyiv describing it as a “Kremlin freak show”.
In a speech repeatedly interrupted by applause, Putin declared that Russia had four new regions. “People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever,” he said.
He urged Ukraine to end its military action and return to the diplomatic table. Kyiv has promised to retake all the territory that Russia has annexed and said that any chance of diplomacy has been destroyed by Russia’s action.
Putin kept hundreds of invited dignitaries waiting for 18 minutes before entering the impressive columned hall through a pair of golden doors opened by high-stepping guards, as a fanfare blared.
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 at the end of World War Two.
Due to the rushed annexations, the front lines of the conflict will now pass through regions that Putin has designated to be Russian territory and that he is prepared to defend with nuclear weapons if necessary.
Some leaders in the West said that was a bluff, which Putin categorically dismissed. According to the United States, Washington has warned Russia that using nuclear weapons may have disastrous repercussions.