Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to defend Russia’s “homeland and values” in a defiant speech from the Kremlin, in which he announced Russia would annex four regions of Ukraine and said the West fears Russian culture.
Angered by a long list of grievances against the West, Putin accused the United States and its allies of waging a “hybrid war” against Russia and its-backed separatist governments in eastern Ukraine.
He said the West has broken its promises to Russia and has no moral right to talk about democracy and that Western countries are acting as the imperialist states they “always” have been.
“They will always be our citizens,” the Russian president said today in a Kremlin ceremony ahead of the signing of the annexation documents.
Speaking ahead of a treaty signing ceremony to make four Ukrainian regions part of Russia, Putin warned his country will never give up the occupied territories and will protect them as part of its sovereignty.
He called on Ukraine to hold talks to end the fighting but warned Russia would never relinquish control of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions. He accused the West of fomenting hostilities as part of its plan to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “slave band”.
The ceremony comes three days after the conclusion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia, which Kyiv and the West dismissed as a shameless land grab carried out at gunpoint and on the basis of lies.
Ukraine responded by saying that it will continue to liberate its Russian-held territory and that “nothing will change” after Putin’s announcement.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine is officially applying for accelerated membership of the NATO military alliance and that Kyiv is ready for talks with Moscow but not with President Putin.
The event in the Kremlin’s opulent, white-and-gold St. George Hall was organized for Putin and the heads of state of Ukraine’s four regions to sign treaties for the territories’ accession to Russia in a sharp escalation of the seven-month conflict.
The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine have been backed by Moscow since declaring independence in 2014, weeks after Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea. The southern Kherson region and part of neighboring Zaporizhia were captured by Russia shortly after Putin dispatched troops to Ukraine on February 24.
Both houses of the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament will meet next week to approve the treaties allowing the regions to join Russia and send them to Putin for approval.
Putin and his lieutenants have bluntly warned Ukraine against launching an offensive to retake the regions, saying Russia would view it as an act of aggression against its sovereign territory and would not hesitate to use “all available means” in retaliation, an indication on Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
The Kremlin-organized referendums in Ukraine and the nuclear warning are an attempt by Putin to avoid further defeats in Ukraine that could jeopardize his 22-year rule.
Russia controls most of the Luhansk and Kherson regions, about 60 percent of the Donetsk region and a large part of the Zaporizhia region, where it took control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Asked about Russia’s plans, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was aiming at least for the “liberation” of the entire Donetsk region.
As it prepared to celebrate the incorporation of the occupied Ukrainian territories, the Kremlin was on the verge of another painful loss on the battlefield, with reports of the imminent Ukrainian encirclement of the eastern city of Lyman.
A resumption could pave the way for Ukraine to penetrate deep into one of the regions Russia is absorbing.
Russia earlier this morning bombed Ukrainian cities with rockets, rockets and suicide drones, with one attack reportedly killing 25 people. The salvos combined were the heaviest barrage Russia has unleashed in weeks.
They followed analysts’ warnings that Putin was likely to draw more on his dwindling inventory of precision weapons and step up attacks to escalate the war to a degree that would shake Western support for Ukraine.
The Kremlin preceded its planned annexation ceremonies today with another warning to Ukraine that it should not fight to retake the four regions.
“It looks pretty pathetic. Ukrainians are doing something, taking steps in the real material world, while the Kremlin is building a kind of virtual reality that is unable to react in the real world,” said Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter and now a political analyst.
“People understand that politics is now on the battlefield. What matters is who advances and who retreats. In that sense, the Kremlin has nothing to offer Russians comfort.”
A Ukrainian counter-offensive has taken control of the military battlefields from Moscow.
Their hold in the Luhansk region appears to be becoming increasingly shaky as Ukrainian forces invade there with the pincer attack on Lyman. Ukraine also has a major foothold in the neighboring Donetsk region.
Luhansk and Donetsk — which has been wracked by fighting since the separatists declared independence in 2014 — make up the larger Donbass region in eastern Ukraine that Putin has long promised but has so far refused to make fully Russian.
Peskov said that both Donetsk and Luhansk are now fully incorporated into Russia.
In the capital of the Zaporizhia region, anti-aircraft missiles, which Russia had repurposed as ground attack weapons, rained down on people waiting in cars waiting to cross Russian-held territory so they could bring family members back across the front lines, according to the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office , Kyrylo Tymoshenko said.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, 25 people were killed and 50 injured.
The attack left deep craters and threw shrapnel through the humanitarian convoy’s lined-up vehicles, killing their passengers. Outbuildings were demolished. Garbage bags, blankets and, in the case of one victim, a blood-soaked towel were used to cover the bodies.
Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhia blamed Ukrainian forces for the strike but did not provide any evidence.
Russian strikes were also reported in the city of Dnipro. Regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said at least one person was killed and five others injured.
Ukraine’s Air Force said the southern cities of Mykolaiv and Odessa were also attacked with Iran-supplied suicide drones, which Russia has increasingly used in recent weeks, apparently to avoid losing more pilots who have no control over Ukrainian skies.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an emergency meeting of his National Security and Defense Council and condemned the recent Russian attacks.
“The enemy is raging and seeking revenge for our steadfastness and failure,” he posted on his Telegram channel.
“They will definitely answer. For every Ukrainian life lost!”
The US and its allies have promised even more sanctions against Russia and billions of dollars in extra support for Ukraine as the Kremlin duplicates the annexation book used for Crimea.
With Ukraine vowing to retake all occupied territories and Russia pledging to defend its gains, threatening to use nuclear weapons and mobilizing another 300,000 troops despite protests, the two nations are on an increasingly escalating collision course.
This was underscored by the fighting for Lyman, a key hub for Russian military operations in Donbass and a coveted prize in Ukraine’s counter-offensive launched in late August.
Russian-backed Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said the city is now “half encircled” by Ukrainian forces. In comments to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, he described the setback as “worrying news”.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/vladimir-putin-declares-annexation-of-occupied-territories-as-russia-escalates-war-with-missile-attacks-on-ukrainian-cities-42029802.html Vladimir Putin declares annexation of occupied territories as Russia escalates war with missile strikes on Ukrainian cities