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Putin Signs Decree Bringing Ukrainian Territory Under Russian Rule

Обращение Путина. ДНР, ЛНР и Херсонская и Запорожская области в составе России / Эфир RTVI

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties to inaugurate the annexation of four Ukrainian territories in a ceremony at 3 p.m. local time Friday.

Separatist leaders from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in southern Ukraine and the self-styled Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics agreed at a ceremony in Moscow to recognize the results of Russian-backed referendums in the breakaway territories, Forbes reported. The Kremlin said it will consider any attack on the annexed territories a direct attack on Russia, urging Kyiv to return to the negotiating table to avoid a catastrophic escalation in the war.

“Today we will be signing the membership agreements making these territories members of the Russian Federation,” Putin said at the signing ceremony, Axios reported.

Residents of the four annexed territories that comprise 18% of Ukraine will “forever” be Russian citizens after the “unequivocal” results of last week’s Moscow-backed votes, Putin said, according to Forbes.

Putin said Russia will use any means available to “protect our lands,” Forbes reported, suggesting the acquired territory could fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella. Further attacks on the territories could provoke a nuclear response that would mark a significant escalation in the war. (RELATED: Ukraine Accuses Russia Of ‘Nuclear Terrorism’ After Missile Strike Near Power Plant)

He then offered to negotiate a ceasefire with Kyiv, adding he would not consider relinquishing Russia’s hold on the territory, Forbes reported.

Kyiv pushed back. “We continue to work and liberate Ukrainian territories, and we don’t pay attention to those whose time to drink pills has come,” Andrii Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said, The Associated Press reported.

Russia assumed de facto control over the four Ukrainian territories early in the war, but in recent weeks Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian defenses and advanced past Russian lines, according to the AP. None of the four annexed territories was fully under Russian military occupation prior to Putin’s declaration to absorb the territories under Russia’s governance.

Ukrainian forces have surrounded the city of Lyman in Donetsk.

However, Western leaders called the referendums, which resulted in between 87% and 99% support for acceding to the Russian Federation, a sham, The New York Times reported.

The U.S. “will never, recognize the legitimacy or outcome of these sham referenda or Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, condemning the “spectacle” orchestrated by Russian proxy leaders “illegitimate” and in violation of international law.

Luhansk and Donetsk declared their independence from Ukraine in 2014 after Russia’s widely-condemned annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

The Russian Parliament will convene in the coming days to cement the Kremlin’s decrees, according to the AP.

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