Putin annexes four Ukrainian territories in escalatory move

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday announced he is moving forward with a plan to annex four regions of eastern Ukraine, escalating a conflict with Ukraine and its western allies who called the decision an illegal move.

Putin made the announcement in a lavish ceremony at the Kremlin before a crowd of seated supporters in Moscow, with Russian flags as his backdrop.

Putin is set to sign “accession treaties” for the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, after holding referendums in the four Russian-occupied regions that were described as “sham” elections by the west. Moscow claimed that around 90 percent of individuals supported joining Russia.

The United States and its allies have rejected Moscow’s referendums.

“This so-called referenda was a sham — an absolute sham — and the results were manufactured in Moscow,” President Biden said at an event with Pacific Island leaders on Thursday. “And the — the true will of the Ukrainian people is evident every day as they sacrifice their lives to save their people and maintain the independence of their country and in defense of freedom as well.”

Biden vowed to never recognize Russia’s claims on eastern Ukraine at the event on Thursday, denouncing Putin’s move as a “flagrant violation” of the U.N. charter.

“I want to be very clear about this: The United States will never, never, never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory,” Biden said.

Putin’s annexation of the four eastern Ukrainian regions represents a major escalation of Russia’s seven-month long war with Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces made major gains in recent weeks, Putin ratcheted up his rhetoric, calling up 300,000 additional troops and making explicit nuclear threats.

The mobilization effort was made in response to criticism of how the war has been handled by Russia. A Ukrainian offensive this month made huge progress for Ukraine and dealt a political blow to Putin.

The calling up of reservists has also led to criticisms across Russia, with images of people seeking to cross the country’s borders and reports of violence at recruiting centers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remained defiant in an address on Thursday, saying the annexation will not be “what the Kremlin hopes for.” Zelensky also met with military commanders on Friday to discuss the “further liberation of Ukrainian lands from the occupiers,” according to a press release.

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