Following the staged referendums in eastern Ukraine, which ended up with “ultimate will of the absolute majority of local residents” to join Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed treaties on Friday to annex four Ukrainian regions partly occupied by his forces.
“This is the will of millions of people,” he said in a speech before hundreds of dignitaries in the St George’s Hall of the Kremlin. “People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever.”
At a ceremony that Kyiv called a “Kremlin freak show” devoid of legal meaning, Putin delivered a 37-minute diatribe against the West, accusing it of “sheer Satanism”, before signing the treaty documents with the Russian-backed heads of the four entities.
Ukraine, the United States and the head of the United Nations had all said the annexation ceremony would have no legal value.
In his speech, Putin urged Ukraine to cease military action and return to the negotiating table. Kyiv has vowed to recapture all the lands seized by Russia and said that Russia’s decision to annex the territories has destroyed any prospect of talks.
The annexations mean that Russia, which had already seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, now lays claim to some 22% of Ukraine’s territory, including parts that it does not control.