MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Friday said that Russia is annexing four occupied regions in Ukraine “forever” and repeated warnings that Moscow will use all available means to defend the territories.
In a joint statement, members of the European Union “unequivocally” rejected the move. US President Joe Biden denounced Russia’s efforts as a “flagrant violation of the UN Charter and the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The recent annexation votes have been condemned as illegal by the United Nations and fraudulent by many other world leaders. UN chief Antonio Guterres described a “moment of peril”.
In Moscow, Putin urged Kyiv to lay down its arms and negotiate an end to seven months of fighting.
The lavish ceremony at the Kremlin, a turning point in recent post-Soviet history, came hours after shelling killed 25 people in the southern Ukraine region of Zaporizhzhia, one of the worst attacks against civilians in months.
Putin was defiant during his address to Russia’s political elite, telling the West that the land grab — covering about 20% of Ukrainian territiry — was irreversible and calling on Ukraine’s emboldened army to give up and negotiate a surrender.
“I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens forever,” he said.
“We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately stop fighting and stop all hostilities … and return to the negotiating table.”
The packed hall erupted to chants of “Russia! Russia” after the four leaders inked the deal, and Putin — rarely seen making physical contact since the pandemic — joined hands with his proxy leaders and was shown shouting along in unison on state TV.
Leading up to the ceremony, Putin warned he could use nuclear weapons to retain control of the territories as Kyiv vowed the move would make no difference to its aims of kicking out Russian troops.
The United states said it would “never” recognise Russia’s authority in the regions.
Washington on Friday imposed more sweeping Russia-related sanctions on hundreds of people and companies, including members of Russia’s legislature, military and central bank, in response to Putin’s latest declaration.
The US Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on 14 people in Russia’s military-industrial complex, two leaders of the central bank, family members of top officials and 278 members of Russia’s legislature “for enabling Russia’s sham referenda and attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory”.
The Treasury also issued guidance warning of heightened sanctions risk to those outside Russia should they provide political or economic support to Moscow.
“We will not stand by as Putin fraudulently attempts to annex parts of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
Among those targeted with sanctions by the United States on Friday was Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak and 278 members of Russia’s legislature.
In a related move, the US Commerce Department is adding 57 entities to its US export blacklist. US restrictions on exports to Russia can apply to entities in other countries that support the military and industrial sectors of Russia and Belarus by shipping prohibited technologies and other items, it added.