At a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian regions.
Ukraine, Western countries, and the UN secretary-general have all condemned the move, which marks a significant escalation in the war that began with Russia’s invasion on February 24.
At the ceremony on Friday, Putin said Russia has “four new regions”, calling the residents of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions “our citizens forever”.
“This is the will of millions of people,” he said in the speech before hundreds of dignitaries at the St George’s Hall of the Kremlin.
“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means,” he added, calling on “the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table”.
In one of his most venomous anti-American speeches in more than two decades in power, Putin signaled his willingness to fight for a “greater historical Russia,” slammed the West as neocolonial and out to destroy his country, and falsely accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
The signing ceremony came three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in the four regions occupied by Russian or Russian-backed forces.
Moscow’s proxies in the occupied territories have claimed majority support for joining Russia of up to 99 percent. Western governments and Kiev have condemned the hastily organized elections as violating international law and accusing them of being coercive and wholly unrepresentative.
Shortly after the ceremony, Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have declared its referendums as having “no validity” and urged all countries not to recognize any “purported annexation” of the territory by Moscow.
The resolution was approved by a vote of 10-1 in the Security Council, with China, India, Brazil, and Gabon abstaining.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote that in the event of a Russian veto, the US and Albania – which sponsored the resolution – would take it to the 193-member General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, “and show that the world is still on the side of sovereignty and protecting territorial integrity”.
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