Vladimir Putin annexes four Ukrainian regions

Vladimir Putin has annexed four regions in south-eastern Ukraine and used “all means” at Russia’s disposal to defend the territory in a speech that marked a further escalation of his war against Kyiv and his resentment against its Western allies.

In a ceremony to mark the move on Friday, the Russian president called on Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war – but reserved his strongest anger at Kiev’s “real masters” in the West, whom he accused of trying to ” destroy”.

The annexations are a dramatic attempt to up the ante in the conflict by bringing them under Russia’s nuclear umbrella.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy informed Putin on Friday that his country had formally applied for accelerated accession to the NATO military alliance.

“Today, here in Kyiv, in the heart of our country, we are taking a decisive step for the security of the entire community of free peoples,” Zelenskyy said in a video address outside his office. “We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated NATO membership.”

Map showing Ukraine and Russia annexed four regions of Ukraine

In the 37-minute speech in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall, Putin said an attack on the four regions he now considers part of his country’s territory would be treated as an attack on Russia and would be met with full force .

“We will defend our country with all means at our disposal and do everything to protect our people. This is our great liberating mission,” he said.

Putin said Russia is ready to hold peace talks with Ukraine but declared the four regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia – off-limits to future negotiations after hastily organized “referendums”.

“People made their choice, a clear choice,” Putin said, describing the polls, which have been condemned internationally, as “the will of millions of people.”

“The people living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia will become our citizens. Forever,” said Putin. “The current government of Kyiv should treat the free expression of these people with respect and nothing else. Only in this way can there be a way to peace.”

As he spoke, Ukrainian troops in northeast Donetsk were pushing further east and nearing the encirclement of the town of Lyman, a key base for Russian forces.

Vladimir Putin with the leaders installed by Russia
President Vladimir Putin, center, with Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine’s four regions at the Kremlin on Friday © Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik/AP

Russia does not fully control any of the four annexed regions and has vowed to “liberate” at least two of them from Ukraine’s grip while Kyiv continues its counteroffensive.

Kremlin officials said Russia could treat further Ukrainian attempts to retake the regions as an attack on its sovereignty and respond by using tactical nuclear weapons.

While Putin made no reference to Russia’s own nuclear arsenal, which he threatened to use when the annexations were announced last week, Putin accused the US of setting a “precedent” by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

But most of the President’s speech was spent railing against the West. It covered topics as diverse as Western sanctions, European imperial history, crude jokes about sex reassignment surgery and allegations that “Anglo-Saxons” attacked two gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea this week.

Citing Russia’s imperial and Soviet past as justification for seizing Ukraine’s lands, Putin uttered a sharp rallying cry to end US hegemony through a Moscow-led “anti-colonial movement.”

“They are blatantly dividing the world into their vassals and everyone else,” Putin said, accusing the Western elite of being “colonial” and “racist.”

“The West is looking for new ways to attack our country, weaken and destroy Russia,” he added. “They just can’t stand that there is such a big country with its territory, rich natural resources and people who don’t live by the rules of others.”

Putin claimed Russia defeated a “sanctions blitz” and warned other countries could face similar restrictions.

“They thought they could rebuild the whole world. But it turns out not everyone is so excited about this bright future. Just total masochists and fans of other non-traditional forms of international relations,” Putin said with a homophobic joke.

“We heard about the containment of Russia, China and Iran. We believe that Latin American and Middle Eastern countries will join this list soon,” he added. “Everyone is in their sphere of influence – including our neighbors” in the former USSR, some of whom have distanced themselves from Moscow because of the war.

Putin gave hope that the EU would end its support for Ukraine as it braces for a difficult winter without Russian energy supplies.

“Politicians in Europe will have to convince their citizens to wash less and to heat their houses themselves. And when they’re asked why they’re pointing the finger at Russia,” he said.

“You can’t feed people with paper dollars and euros,” Putin said. “You can’t warm people up with inflated reviews — you need sources of energy.”

https://www.ft.com/content/38a1ea78-5530-4eba-85e5-70c2e38024a9 Vladimir Putin annexes four Ukrainian regions

Adam Bradshaw

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