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Putin annexes four regions of Ukraine ‘forever’ as Kyiv applies for Nato membership

Land grab is ‘the most serious escalation since the start of the war’, says Stoltenberg

David Harding
Friday 30 September 2022 20:10 BST
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Russia’s war in Ukraine is at a “pivotal moment”, Nato said on Friday after Vladimir Putin annexed more territory and declared sham referendum results to be “the will of millions of people”.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg called it “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War”.

The war was at “a pivotal moment”, he said, and Putin’s claim to the Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson marked “the most serious escalation since the start of the war”.

At a series of events in Moscow celebrating the land grab, Putin said there were “four new regions of Russia” and railed against Kyiv and the West.

“This is the will of millions of people,” he said in a speech to dignitaries in the St George’s Hall of the Kremlin.

“I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me, so that they remember this. People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever.”

Putin’s announcement brought a swift response with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky accelerating his bid for Nato membership.

Crowds watch on a large screen as Vladimir Putin declares Russia is annexing four regions of Ukraine (AP)

He said the move meant Kyiv was “taking a decisive step for [the] entire security of free nations”. He added: “The entire territory of our country will be liberated from this enemy. Russia already knows this. It feels our power.”

Washington announced fresh sanctions and the European Union said it would never recognise the annexation or the votes that preceded them.

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 have described those votes as bogus and illegitimate. They have constantly said they will not recognise the votes or the annexations.

In an angry and ranting speech, Mr Putin called on Ukraine to lay down its arms and end a war “they began in 2014”. He added that Kyiv must “come back to the negotiation table”.

Vladimir Putin with Denis Pushilin, Leonid Pasechnik, Vladimir Saldo and Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed leaders in Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions (REUTERS)

But he used the rest of his address to attack the West for its actions today and in the past, highlighting America’s dropping of nuclear bombs in Japan and Britian’s colonial past in countries such as India, its “liberalism” and straying into culture wars, accusing it of destroying family values, moral norms and accusing it of “satanism”.

“The West is looking for new opportunities to hit us and they always dreamt about breaking our state into smaller states who will be fighting against each other,” he said, adding that the West wanted Russia to be its “colony”.

“They don’t want to see us a free society. They want to see us as a crowd of slaves. They don’t need Russia, we need Russia,” he said to applause from the hundreds gathered in the Kremlin.

He added: “The Western elites have always been like this. They have been colonisers and they remain colonisers, they discriminate and they they distinguish between the first class of nations and second-class nations.”

People gather in front of screens located near the Kremlin and Red Square before Mr Putin’s speech (REUTERS)

Mr Putin then claimed the West had turned away from “traditional” and “religious” values, asking the audience if they wanted “children to be offered sex-change operations” – a practice he implied was widespread.

He also accused “Anglo-Saxons” of destroying the Nord Stream pipelines earlier this week.

Following the speech he signed treaties annexing the occupied territories.

The European Union immediately condemned the annexation. Brussels called for tighter restrictions on issuing short-stay visas to Russians in response to the Kremlin’s escalation of the war and mobilisation of troops.

Mr Stoltenberg said Mr Putin’s actions had contributed to the “most serious escalation since the start of the war”.

The four Ukrainian regions, in yellow, that Russia annexed in September 2022 (Independent)

Mr Putin’s address came on the same day as an attack on a humanitarian convoy left at least 25 people dead and 50 injured in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia.

But even at Russia’s moment of celebration, the Kremlin was facing another battlefield loss, its latest in several weeks.

Russian and Western analysts reported the imminent Ukrainian encirclement of the city of Lyman, which could open the path for Ukraine to push deep into one of the regions Russia is annexing.

Ukrainians leave the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia with a Ukrainian police escort after a convoy of civilians was struck by a Russian missile (EPA)

The head of the Russian-backed separatist administration in east Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, who attended the event in the Kremlin on Friday, said that the Russian stronghold of Lyman, in the region’s north, was “semi-encircled” by the Ukrainian army and that news from the front was “alarming”.

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