President Vladimir Putin announced Friday that Russia will be taking four areas of Ukraine, making them Russian territory, surprising countries around the world with the illegal land grab, and ramping up tensions over what is next in the war against Ukraine.
Putin made the announcement in a speech where he slammed the West after saying areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia would be annexed because of the outcome of referendums held there.
“Not only do Western elites deny national sovereignty and international law,” Putin said in the 37-minute address. “Their hegemony has a pronounced character of totalitarianism, despotism and apartheid.”
The move was reminiscent of the action Putin took in 2014 when he announced the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. That move also followed what was called a “sham” referendum that U.S. President Joe Biden claimed was an overwhelming call for action to annex the area.
Putin insisted Russia would not negotiate over any part of the decision to annex the four territories. He added that the country would defend them “with all the forces and means at our disposal.”
“I call on the Kyiv regime to immediately cease fire and all military action,” he said, and for the Ukrainian government “to return to the negotiating table.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded by asking NATO to speed up approving Ukraine’s membership in the defense alliance.
Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, has confirmed that Kyiv has submitted its formal application to join the NATO military alliance.
Shmyhal said that he, Zelenskyy and the speaker of parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, had signed a formal fast-track NATO membership application, according to the BBC.
Zelenskyy said Friday that he is “ready for a dialogue” with a Russian president, but it would not be Putin.
Reactions from other countries to Putin’s annexation move were swift and harsh.
The U.S. State Department said it has imposed visa restrictions on nearly 1,000 people as part of new Russia-related sanctions following Friday’s announcement by Putin.
The individuals now barred from traveling to the U.S. include members of the Russian and Belarusian military and “Russia’s proxies for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence,” according to the department.
“The United States unequivocally rejects Russia’s fraudulent attempt to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including by holding sham ‘referenda,’” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“The sham ‘referendums’ being conducted by Russia’s proxies on sovereign Ukrainian territory are completely illegitimate,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said on Thursday.
“The United States will never, never, never recognize Russia’s claim on Ukraine sovereign territory,” Biden said on Thursday, while U.N. Secretary General António Guterres had already said the annexation “would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned”.
Here is what representatives from other countries have said about Russia’s move:
· Poland’s foreign ministry called for an increase in military support for Kyiv and condemned “in the strongest terms the illegal acts of ‘recognition of independence’ and ‘incorporation’ into the Russian Federation of parts of Ukraine’s regions of Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.”
· The European Council said “we firmly reject and unequivocally condemn” the annexation. The statement said the action had no legal impact.
· U.K. Foreign secretary James Cleverly said his country will increase sanctions against Russia following the “illegal” annexation. In addition to banning the export of hundreds of goods to Russia, Cleverly said that the country will no longer have access to U.K. commercial and transactional services.
· Italy’s Giorgia Meloni said Putin “once again demonstrates his neo-imperialist, Soviet-style vision, which threatens the security of the entire European continent”.
· Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the country condemned the illegal annexation “in the strongest terms.” Andersson called Russia’s move to annex territory a “complete farce.”
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