Sunday, December 4, 2022

Defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation as military setback looms

Defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation as military setback looms

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A defiant Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia's annexation of a swathe of Ukraine in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony, promising Moscow would triumph in its "special military operation" even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal.

The proclamation of Russian rule over 15% of Ukraine - the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two - was roundly rejected by Ukraine and Western countries as illegal. The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy said his country had submitted a fast track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president.

Putin's proclamation coincided with Russian forces in one of the four regions being annexed facing encirclement by Ukrainian troops, showing how tenuous Russia's grip is on some of territory it is claiming.

In one of his toughest anti-American speeches in more than two decades in power, Putin signalled he was ready to continue what he called a battle for a "greater historical Russia", slammed the West as out to destroy Russia and, without evidence, accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

But US President Joe Biden said it "was a deliberate act of sabotage and now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies," adding that Washington and its allies would send divers to find out what happened.

The four Ukrainian regions - Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia - that Putin said Russia was absorbing had made a historic choice, Putin said.

"They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. Truth is on our side. Russia is with us!" Putin told his country's political elite, who had gathered in one of the Kremlin's grandest halls to watch him sign the annexation documents.

Russia organised so-called referendums, which were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.

"We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means," he added, calling on "the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table".

UKRAINE NATO BID

In Ukraine, Zelenskiy said he was only ready for peace talks if and when Russia had a new president.

He also announced that Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership of NATO, something Moscow fiercely opposes, and accused Russia of redrawing borders "using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies".

He said, however, that Kyiv remained committed to the idea of co-existence with Russia "on equal, honest, dignified and fair conditions".

"Clearly, with this Russian president it is impossible. He does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia," Zelenskiy said.