In a major development in the ongoing Ukraine war, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed documents to annex four Ukrainian regions that were partly occupied by his forces. The annexations were declared in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The news came much to the dismay of Kyiv and the West, who said the votes breached international law, and were coercive and unrepresentative.
Reuters reported that Putin and the heads of the four newly annexed territories were seen on television holding hands and chanting “Russia”. The signing of treaties implies a sharp escalation in the seven-month invasion of Russia in Ukraine.
The separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine – which have long been the target of Putin and his men, have been backed by Moscow since declaring independence from Ukraine in 2014 – weeks after the annexation of the crucial Crimean Peninsula. The southern Kherson region and part of the neighboring Zaporizhzhia were captured by Russia soon after Putin’s troops began the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Putin said he is open to talk to Ukraine but warned that Russia is not going to give up the newly annexed territories. He further stated that Russia is not striving to bring back the Soviet Union, saying that they don’t “need it anymore”.
“The USSR is no more. We can’t bring the past back. And Russia doesn’t need it anymore. We are not striving towards that,” the Russian president said.
Here are the top five quotes from Putin’s speech at the annexation ceremony:
1. “I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me, so that they remember this. People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever.”
2. “We will defend our land with all the powers and means at our disposal. And we will do everything to ensure the safe life of our people. This is the great liberation mission of our people. We will rebuild ruined settlements, housing, schools, hospitals, theatres, museums. We will restore and develop industrial enterprises, factories, infrastructure, social, pension, healthcare and education systems. Of course, we will work to improve the level of security, and together we will make sure that citizens in the new regions feel the support of the entire people of Russia, the entire country, all the republics, all territories and regions of our vast motherland.”
3. “In 1991, at Belovezh Forest, without asking the will of ordinary citizens, representatives of the then-party elites decided to destroy the USSR, and people suddenly found themselves cut off from their motherland. This tore apart and dismembered our nation, becoming a national catastrophe.”
4. “As once before, after the Revolution, the borders of the Union republics were carved up from behind the scenes. So, the last leaders of the Soviet Union, contrary to the direct expression of the will of the majority of people in the referendum of 1991, destroyed our great country, confronting the people with a fait accompli…I admit that they did not fully understand what they were doing, and what consequences this would inevitably lead to in the end. But this is no longer important.”
5. “Sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved on to sabotage. It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they organised the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipelines, which run along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. In fact, they began to destroy the pan-European energy infrastructure. It is clear to everyone who benefits from this. Of course, he who benefits did it.”
(With inputs from Reuters, AFP, AP)