- U.S. condemns annexation, imposes new sanctions
- Zelenskiy announces NATO membership application
- Says no peace talks while Putin is in power
- Putin slams neo-colonial ‘Satanic’ West
- Says U.S. 1945 atomic bomb use set precedent
Sept 30 (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia’s annexation of a swathe of Ukraine in an ostentatious pageant in Red Square, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a seemingly serious new military reversal.
Putin’s proclamation of Russian rule over 15% of Ukraine – the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two – was wholly rejected by Ukraine and Western countries, with the United States and Britain announcing fresh sanctions.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy said his country had submitted a fast track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president.
Putin pledge to continue what he called a battle for a “greater historical Russia”, accused the West as intent to destroy his country and, without evidence, accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines. It was possibly his most vehemently anti-American speeches in more than two decades in power.
The four Ukrainian regions that he said Russia was absorbing had made a historic choice, he said.
“They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. Truth is on our side. Russia is with us!” Putin told his country’s political elite, who had gathered in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls to watch him sign the annexation documents.
“People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever.”
“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 Ukraine, President Zelenskiy said he was only ready for peace talks if and when Russia got a new president.
He also announced that Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership of NATO, something Moscow fiercely opposes, and accused Russia of redrawing borders “using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies”.
He said, however, that Kyiv remained committed to the idea of co-existence with Russia “on equal, honest, dignified and fair conditions”.
“Clearly, with this Russian president it is impossible. He does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” Zelenskiy said.
Putin said the United States had set a precedent when it had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, while stopping short of issuing new nuclear warnings against Ukraine himself, something he has done more than once in recent weeks.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not yet seen Russia take any action that suggested it was contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, despite what he called Putin’s “loose talk.”
The annexation ceremony culminated in Putin, 69, chanting “Russia! Russia!” as he clasped the hands of the Russian-backed officials he wants to run the annexed regions, which Ukraine is fighting to win back.
Thousands of people, some of them clutching Russian flags, then packed into Moscow’s Red Square to hear celebratory pop music. Putin told the crowd: “Victory will be ours!”
U.S. President Joe Biden said new U.S. sanctions would hurt those who provided political or economic support to the annexation drive.
“We will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable. We will continue to provide Ukraine with the equipment it needs to defend itself, undeterred by Russia’s brazen effort to redraw the borders of its neighbour,” Biden said in a statement.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Putin of provoking “the most serious escalation” of the war since it began on Feb. 24, but said he would not succeed in deterring the alliance from supporting Kyiv.
Ukraine and the West have condemned referendums that Moscow held in the four Ukrainian regions – and said showed big majorities to join Russia – as illegal shams. Several dozen Ukrainians interviewed by Reuters in the last week said that only people they described as “Russian collaborators” had voted, with most people boycotting them.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Russian troops in Ukraine were encircled in one of their main garrisons on Friday, on the verge of one of the worst defeats of the war, overshadowing President Vladimir Putin’s celebration to proclaim his annexation of seized land.
The pro-Russian leader in Ukraine’s Donetsk province acknowledged his forces had lost full control of Yampil and Dobryshev, villages north and east of the city of Lyman, leaving Moscow’s main garrison in northern Donetsk “half-encircled”.
The Ukrainian army was “trying at all costs to spoil our historic events”, Denis Pushilin said, referring to an annexation ceremony he was due to attend later on Friday with Putin at the Kremlin.
“This is very unpleasant news, but we must look soberly at the situation and draw conclusions from our mistakes.”
Ukraine’s military said it was withholding details until the situation was stabilised, but that an operation was under way to encircle Russian forces in the area.
“All the approaches and logistic routes of the enemy, through which they delivered ammunition and manpower, are in fact under fire control” of the Ukrainian army, said Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson Ukrainian troops in the east.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a high profile Ukrainian lawmaker, tweeted: “Lyman is surrounded! The Ukrainian army is already in Yampil. The Russian army is trying to escape.”
Pro-Russian military bloggers reported Ukrainian forces had cut off the escape of thousands of Russian troops. Pushilin said one road to Lyman was still open, though he acknowledged it was now under Ukrainian artillery fire.