Putin declares annexation of Ukraine’s occupied territories

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Russian strongman Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed decrees paving the way for the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia. On Friday, he hosted a Kremlin ceremony incorporating all four Russian-controlled areas into the country.

In February, Russia formally recognised the “independence” of the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The new decrees, made public by the Kremlin on Thursday, said Vladimir Putin had recognised Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as independent territories. This was an intermediary step needed before he announced on Friday that the regions are part of Russia.

On Friday, a ceremony of annexing four regions of Ukraine was hosted by the Kremlin while the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Putin would have to be stopped for Russia to avoid the most damaging consequences of the war.

“The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a worthwhile life, or any respect for humanitarian values,” he explained in a Thursday evening address.

There was a warning too from UN Secretary general António Guterres, who said the annexations were a “dangerous escalation” and would jeopardise prospects for peace.

Russia’s annexation of eastern and southern provinces comes after what Ukraine and Western countries said were sham votes staged at gunpoint in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

The territory Russia controls amounts to more than 90,000 square km, or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area - equal to the size of Hungary or Portugal.

US’ position remains firm

On Thursday, the US President Joe Biden pledged the country will never recognise Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s sovereign territory as it prepared new sanctions to impose once Moscow annexes new areas of Ukraine.

He denounced referendums that pro-Russian forces conducted in areas of Ukraine as an “absolute sham,” saying the results were “manufactured in Moscow.”

“Russia's assault on Ukraine in pursuit of imperial ambitions is a flagrant, flagrant violation of the UN Charter, and the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the President stressed.