This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed decrees, which the Kremlin calls “accession treaties,” to formally seize four Ukrainian territories partially occupied by Moscow.
Putin signed the decrees to incorporate the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions during a lavish ceremony on September 30 in the opulent white-and-gold St. George’s Hall before hundreds of members of the nation’s elite.
The Russian leader opened the ceremony with a rabid anti-Western speech blasting the United States and Europe for actions spanning hundreds of years — including slavery, colonization, and the use of nuclear weapons — as he sought to justify a territorial takeover that most nations of the world and the United Nations reject as illegal and illegitimate.
“People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson are now becoming citizens of Russia,” Putin said.
“They made a choice and Russia will not betray them. We will defend our land by all means we possess. This is the great liberating mission of our nation,” Putin said.
The ceremony comes three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies.
The Moscow-imposed leaders from the four regions attended the ceremony, signing the decrees together with Putin.
The ceremony will be followed by a pop concert held on Moscow’s Red Square, where a stage with giant video screens has been set up and where billboards proclaim “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson — Russia!”
Putin recognized the independence of the Ukrainian regions Kherson and Zaporizhzhya, which are only partially occupied by the Russian army, in decrees early on September 30 that are an intermediary step paving the way for the two occupied regions of Ukraine to be annexed by Russia.
The decrees are similar to steps Putin took regarding Luhansk and Donetsk in February just before launching his invasion of Ukraine
The four territories ensure a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Together, the five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose forces in recent weeks have launched a successful counteroffensive that has clawed back some territory, promised a strong response to the move and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting.
Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app that he and the military chiefs also discussed supplies of weapons for the country’s armed forces, as well as Russia’s possible further plans following its invasion of Ukraine.
The United States and the United Nations on September 29 strongly denounced Russia’s plans to hold the takeover ceremony, which comes on the heels of so-called referendums in the four Ukrainian regions that Western countries said were a “sham” but which Moscow-installed officials in the regions said showed overwhelming support for joining Russia.
U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss criticized Putin for showing “clear disregard for the lives of the Ukrainian people he claims to represent.”
“The U.K. will never ignore the sovereign will of those people and we will never accept the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya as anything other than Ukrainian territory,” she said on September 30.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the referendums held in the four Ukrainian territories and their imminent seizure by Russia.
“We will not accept these alleged results, we will not accept these border shifts!” said Steinmeier at a medal ceremony to mark German Unity Day at Bellevue Palace in Berlin on September 30.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s territory, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the referendums were “a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine,” adding in a statement that the results “were orchestrated in Moscow and do not reflect the will of the people of Ukraine.”
As Washington and the European Union prepared additional sanctions to further isolate Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said annexation would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardize the prospects for peace.
Guterres said any decision to proceed with seizing the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions of Ukraine “would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”
The takeover “will prolong the dramatic impacts on the global economy, especially in developing countries, and hinder our ability to deliver life-saving aid across Ukraine and beyond,” Guterres said.