Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday formally announced that Moscow will annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, in an act condemned by the global community and in violation of international law.
Speaking at an event at the Kremlin, Putin announced the incorporation of the four Russian-occupied regions — Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. Putin described them as "four new regions" of Russia.
"I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia [regions] are becoming our citizens forever," Putin said.
Putin called on Ukraine to sit down for talks to end the more than seven-month-long war, but warned sternly that Russia would never surrender control of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Putin said the West had broken its promises to Russia and had no moral right to talk about democracy, and that the countries of the West were acting as the imperialist states that they had "always been."
Putin: Anglo-Saxons out to destroy EU energy infrastructure
He also accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea to Germany. Putin said the "Anglo-Saxons" have turned from sanctions to "terror attacks," sabotaging the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in what he described as an attempt to "destroy the European energy infrastructure."
After the speech, Putin signed treaties absorbing occupied regions of Ukraine into Russia, in breach of international law.
On Thursday, the Russian leader signed decrees recognizing the supposed independence of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, mirroring a decree signed in February regarding the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
"I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence" of the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in southern Ukraine, Putin said in the decrees.
The four territories create a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014 in a similar process.
So-called referendums were hastily held in recent days amid an effective Ukrainian counteroffensive that has seen Russian forces pushed back in the east.
An attack on annexed territory will be an attack on Russia — Kremlin
The Kremlin said it would consider an attack against any part of the regions it is about to illegally annex as acts of aggression against Russia itself.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia would "de jure" incorporate parts of eastern Ukraine that are not under the control of Russian forces into Russia itself as part of its move to annex four regions of Ukraine.
According to Peskov, Russia will consider the territory of "Donetsk People’s Republic" not yet controlled by Russian forces as part of Russia. However, he could not answer questions about the borders of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Peskov said he needed to clarify that.
EU leaders reject Russia's 'illegal annexation' in Ukraine
After Putin announced the incorporation of the four occupied Ukrainian regions, EU leaders vowed they would "never recognize" Russia's illegal annexation of four more regions in Ukraine and accused the Kremlin of putting global security at risk.
"We firmly reject and unequivocally condemn the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions," the 27 leaders said in a statement.
"Russia is putting global security at risk," EU leaders said, accusing Moscow of "wilfully undermining the rules-based international order and blatantly violating the fundamental rights of Ukraine to independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, core principles as enshrined in the UN Charter and international law."
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, also said that Russia's annexation of the four Ukrainian regions was illegal and that occupied land would remain part of Ukraine.
"The illegal annexation proclaimed by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin won't change anything," von der Leyen said on Twitter.
"All territories illegally occupied by Russian invaders are Ukrainian land and will always be part of this sovereign nation," von der Leyen added.
The OSCE, an intergovernmental security organization of 57 states, also condemned the illegal annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory. "The step announced today is a blatant violation of the fundamental rules of international law, OSCE principles, and the UN Charter," the statement said.
US condemns annexation, sanctions Russian officials
US President Joe Biden condemned Russia's "fraudulent" declaration that it had annexed four regions of Ukraine and said Moscow was contravening international law.
"The United States condemns Russia's fraudulent attempt today to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory. Russia is violating international law, trampling on the United Nations Charter, and showing its contempt for peaceful nations everywhere," Biden said in a statement.
"The United States will always honor Ukraine's internationally recognized borders. We will continue to support Ukraine's efforts to regain control of its territory by strengthening its hand militarily and diplomatically, including through the $1.1 billion in additional security assistance the United States announced this week," Biden said.
The United States also introduced new sanctions targeting Russian officials, their families and dozens of entities that Washington says are aiding the annexation. They include a warning to other countries that the sanctions apply to any country that seeks to replenish tapped out Russian military and industrial resources.
Meanwhile, Britain sanctioned the governor of Russia's Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, imposing an asset freeze and travel ban, the British Foreign Office said.
js,dh, kb/sms,jcg (AFP, AP)