Putin annexes Ukraine territories, Kyiv applies to join Nato

Saturday, Oct 01, 2022

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday annexed four parts of Ukraine occupied by his army, staging a grand ceremony in Moscow as Kyiv vowed to battle on and pushed for expedited Nato membership.

The event at the Kremlin -- a turning point in recent post-Soviet history -- came hours after shelling killed 25 people in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia in 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 internationally condemned manoeuvre was irreversible and urging Ukraine’s emboldened army to 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,” Putin said. “We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately stop fighting and stop all hostilities... and return to the negotiating table,” the Russian leader added.

The packed hall erupted into chants of “Russia! Russia” after the four leaders inked the deal. Putin -- rarely seen making physical contact since the pandemic -- joined hands with his proxy leaders and they shouted along in unison on state TV.

Washington announced “severe” new sanctions against Russian officials and the country’s defence industry, and said G7 allies support imposing “costs” on any nation that backs the annexation.

President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately urged the US-led military alliance Nato to grant Ukraine expedited membership, a move Kyiv had threatened earlier and that rattled Putin. The Ukrainian leader doubled down in an address to the nation, vowing never to hold talks with Russia so long as Putin was in power.

“We will negotiate with the new president,” Zelensky said. US President Joe Biden condemned Russia’s “fraudulent” declaration, vowing to keep backing Kyiv army. “We will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to regain control of its territory by strengthening its hand militarily and diplomatically,” he said.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg condemned the annexation as “illegal and illegitimate” but remained non-committal after Ukraine said it was applying to join the Western alliance. “France opposes this and stands with Ukraine against Russian aggression,” President Emmanuel Macron said, according to his office.

Despite warnings from Putin prior to the annexation that he could use nuclear weapons to defend the captured territories, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would “continue liberating our land and our people”. Hours ahead of the ceremony, an attack in Zaporizhzhia in the south, killed at least 25 people as civilians were preparing to leave to pick up relatives, Ukrainian officials said.

Bodies clothed in civilian wear were strewn across the ground after the attack and windows of cars blown out, an AFP photographer said. One man, 56-year-old Viktor, said his life was saved because he went to get a coffee.

“The waitress gave it to me. And there was a bang. She got scared and left the cafe. A few minutes later, there was another explosion. Now she is on the floor,” he said. Meanwhile, Russia on Friday vetoed a Western bid at the UN Security Council to condemn its annexations of Ukrainian territory but found no other support, with China and India abstaining.

Russia´s veto was a certainty but Western powers hoped to show Moscow’s isolation in its war and will take the condemnation effort to the General Assembly, where every nation has a vote. The United States pushed through a resolution hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow had taken over four areas of Ukraine which held Kremlin-organized referendums after the land was seized by Russia´s military.