Vladimir Putin has signed “accession treaties” formalising Russia’s illegal annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine – Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk – marking the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war. After signing the treaties, the Russian-installed heads of the four regions gathered around Putin, linking hands and joining chants of “Russia! Russia!” with the applauding audience.
Putin later addressed crowds in Moscow’s Red Square, where he vowed to “do everything” to “raise the level of security” in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk. Speaking at a televised patriotic pop concert, the Russian leader said people in the regions had made a choice to rejoin their “historic motherland”. “Welcome home!” he said to the flag-waving crowd.
In a firm rebuttal to Putin’s ceremony in Moscow, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, announced in a video address in Kyiv that his country was formally applying for fast-track membership of the Nato alliance. Zelenskiy accused Russia of brazenly rewriting history and redrawing borders “using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies”, adding that Ukraine would not hold any peace talks with Russia as long as Putin was president.
The Kremlin said again on Friday that it would consider attacks against any part of its claimed regions of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – as acts of aggression against Russia itself. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia would “de jure” incorporate parts of Ukraine which are not under the control of Russian forces. Of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson are the only territories that Russia is close to having total control over.
Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, accused Vladimir Putin of provoking “the most serious escalation” of the war in Ukraine since it began with his latest actions. Russia’s move was “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the second world war”, Stoltenberg said, adding that Nato reaffirmed its “unwavering support” for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Dozens of people were killed after Russian forces launched a missile attack on a civilian convoy near the city of Zaporizhzhia, hours before Putin’s signing ceremony. The attack on Friday morning hit people waiting in cars in Zaporizhzhia city to cross into Russian-occupied territory so they could bring family members back across the frontlines.
Putin has signed a decree on routine autumn conscription, the Kyiv Independent reports. According to the outlet, Russia’s defence ministry “reportedly claims that the decision is ‘not in any way related’” to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A large number of Russian forces in the strategic Donbas town of Lyman were reported to have been surrounded in the latest setback for Putin. Ukrainian and Russian military bloggers said that Russian forces together with local “Luhansk People’s Republic” fighters were encircled in the city of Lyman. The town – a strategic railway junction – has been under Moscow’s control since May. The surrender of Russia’s garrison in Lyman would be a humiliation for the Kremlin, at a time when it is claiming that the entire Donetsk region including areas under Ukrainian government control is a part of Russia “forever”.
In response to Putin’s annexation of Ukrainian territories, the US announced fresh Russia-related sanctions on hundreds of individuals and companies. More than 1,000 people and firms connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are included in the new sanctions package, including its Central Bank governor and families of national security council members.
The US Congress also approved $12.3bn in aid on Friday to Ukraine. The package includes $3bn for arms, supplies and salaries for Ukraine’s military and authorises president Joe Biden to direct the Pentagon to transfer $3.7bn in weapons and other hardware to Ukraine.
Russia on Friday vetoed a western bid at the UN security council to condemn its annexations of Ukrainian territory.
The US has not to date seen Russia take any action that suggests it is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, according to the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken. He reiterated that the US takes Vladimir Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling “very seriously” and said the US plans for “every possible scenario, including this one”.
The UK is also stepping up sanctions against Russia after the “illegal” annexation of four areas of Ukraine, foreign secretary James Cleverly announced. The measures will restrict Russia’s access to key British commercial and transactional services, as well as ban the export to Russia of almost 700 goods that are critical to manufacturing production, the Foreign Office said.