Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that Kyiv would not negotiate with Russia – which annexed four territories in Ukraine – as long as President Vladimir Putin was in power. At a grand ceremony in the Kremlin, Putin annexed Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine controlled by his army and urged Kyiv to lay down its arms and negotiate an end to seven months of fighting.
“Ukraine will not hold any negotiations with Russia as long as Putin is the president of the Russian Federation. We will negotiate, but with the new president,” Zelensky said.
The Ukraine leader also said he is requesting fast-track NATO membership. “We have already proven our compatibility with (NATO) alliance standards,” Zelensky said in a video posted by the Ukrainian presidency on social media.
“We are taking a decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to NATO,” he added.
“By attempting to annex Ukraine’s Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin tries to grab territories he doesn’t even physically control on the ground. Nothing changes for Ukraine: we continue liberating our land and our people, restoring our territorial integrity,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on social media.
Putin was defiant during an address to Russia’s most senior political elite, telling the West the land grab was irreversible and calling on Ukraine’s emboldened army to give up and 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.
The packed hall erupted to chants of “Russia! Russia” after the four leaders inked the deal, and Putin – rarely seen making physical contact since the pandemic – joined hands with his proxy leaders and was shown shouting along in unison on state TV.
Leading up to the ceremony Putin warned he could use nuclear weapons to retain control of the territories as Kyiv vowed the move would make no difference to its aims of kicking out Russian troops.
Ukraine’s closest backer, Washington, said it would “never” recognise Russia’s authority in the regions.
(With inputs from agencies)