Vladimir Putin signed ‘accession treaties’ formalizing Russia’s illegal annexation of four occupied regions of Ukraine – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk – marking the largest takeover of territory by force in Europe since the Second World War. After signing the treaties, the leaders of the four regions installed by Russia gathered around Putin, shaking hands and joining in chants of “Russia!” Russia!” with the audience applauding.
Putin then addressed the crowd in Moscow’s Red Square, where he vowed to “do everything” to “raise the level of security” in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Lugansk and Donetsk. Speaking at a televised patriotic pop concert, the Russian leader said people in the regions had made the choice to return to their “historic homeland”. “Welcome to the house!” he said to the flag-waving crowd.
In a strong rebuttal to Putin’s ceremony in Moscow, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced in a video address in Kyiv that his country was formally applying for accelerated membership of the NATO alliance. Zelenskiy accused Russia of brazenly rewriting history and redrawing borders “using murder, blackmail, abuse and lies”, adding that Ukraine would not hold any peace talks with Russia until Putin would be president.
The Kremlin again said on Friday that it would consider attacks on any part of its claimed regions of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – as acts of aggression against Russia itself. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia would “de jure” integrate parts of Ukraine that are not under the control of Russian forces. Of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson are the only territories over which Russia is close to having full control.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has accused Vladimir Putin of causing “the most serious escalation” of the war in Ukraine since it began with his latest actions. Russia’s move was “the biggest attempt to annex European territory by force since World War II”, Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO reaffirmed its “unwavering support” for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Dozens of people were killed after Russian forces launched a missile attack on a civilian convoy near the town of Zaporizhzhia, hours before Putin’s signing ceremony. Friday morning’s attack hit people waiting in cars in the town of Zaporizhzhia to cross into Russian-occupied territory so they could bring family members back across the front lines.
Putin has signed a decree on routine autumn conscription, reports the Kyiv Independent. According to the outlet, the Russian Defense Ministry “claimed that the decision was ‘in no way related'” to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Large numbers of Russian forces in the strategic Donbass town of Lyman were reportedly surrounded in Putin’s latest setback. Ukrainian and Russian military bloggers said that Russian forces as well as local fighters from the “Luhansk People’s Republic” were surrounded in the town of Lyman. The city, a strategic rail hub, has been under Moscow control since May. The surrender of Lyman’s Russian garrison would be a humiliation for the Kremlin, at a time when it claims that the entire Donetsk region, including areas under Ukrainian government control, is part of Russia “forever”.
In response to Putin’s annexation of Ukrainian territories, the United States announced new Russia-related sanctions against hundreds of individuals and businesses. More than 1,000 people and businesses linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are included in the new sanctions package, including its Central Bank Governor and the families of members of the National Security Council.
United States Congress also on Friday approved $12.3 billion in aid to Ukraine. The package includes $3 billion for weapons, supplies and salaries for the Ukrainian military and authorizes President Joe Biden to order the Pentagon to transfer $3.7 billion worth of weapons and other equipment to the Ukraine.
Russia Friday vetoed a Western offer to the UN Security Council condemn its annexations of Ukrainian territory.
To date, the United States has not seen Russia take any action suggesting it is considering the use of nuclear weapons, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He reaffirmed that the United States takes Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber slashings “very seriously” and said the United States is planning for “every possible scenario, including this one.”
The UK is also tightening sanctions against Russia after the “illegal” annexation of four regions of Ukraine, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has announced. The measures will restrict Russia’s access to key British business and transactional services, and ban the export to Russia of nearly 700 goods essential for manufacturing, the Foreign Office said.