Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday held a grand ceremony in Moscow as he annexed four territories of Ukraine occupied by his forces, pledging Kyiv to fight and pushing for speedy NATO membership. .

The events in the Kremlin — a turning point in post-Soviet history — came hours after the shelling that killed 30 people in Zaporizhia in southern Ukraine.

Putin is defiant in a speech to Russia’s political elite, telling Western nations that an internationally condemned operation cannot be undone, urging emboldened Ukrainian forces to negotiate surrender urged.

“I would like to say to the Kyiv regime and the Western rulers: the people of Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia will forever be our citizens,” Putin said.

“We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately cease fighting, cease all hostilities and return to the negotiating table,” the Russian leader added.

The packed venue called out, “Russia! Russia after the four leaders signed the agreement.”

Putin, who has rarely had physical contact since the pandemic, joined hands with the acting leader and shouted in unison on state television.

Washington has announced “harsh” new sanctions on Russian officials and the country’s defense industry, and said G7 allies support imposing “costs” on countries that support annexation.

President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately asked NATO, the US-led military alliance, to grant Ukraine fast track membership.

Biden says Putin is ‘struggling’

The Ukrainian leader doubled down in an address to the nation that he would not meet with Russia as long as Putin was in power.

“We will negotiate with the new president,” Zelensky said.

US President Joe Biden has slammed Friday’s Moscow ceremony as a “make-believe routine” by Putin to show strength, but instead says “he’s been having a hard time.” and vowed to continue to support Kyiv.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the annexation as “illegal and illegitimate” but did not intend to get involved, even after he said Ukraine was applying to join the Western Alliance.

The US and Canada expressed support for Ukraine’s accession, but avoided promises of expedited accession.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said Kyiv “will continue to liberate our land and people,” despite Putin’s warning before the annexation that nuclear weapons could be used to defend the occupied territories. rice field.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Friday that Washington would announce an “immediate” shipment of new weapons to Kyiv next week.

Sullivan also said there was a “risk” that Putin would use nuclear weapons, but there was no indication that he would do so anytime soon.

Hours before the annexation ceremony, an attack in the southern city of Zaporizhia killed at least 30 people and injured dozens more.

After the attack, bodies in plain clothes were strewn on the ground and car windows were blown out.

Victor, 56, says going for coffee saved his life.

“The clerk gave it to me. And there was a shock. She got scared and left the cafe. A few minutes later there was another explosion. Now she’s on the floor,” he said. Told. “She managed to hide. She didn’t.”

land corridor

In central Moscow, at least 10,000 people gathered for a state-sponsored annexation celebration, chanting “Donetsk. Lugansk. Zaporizhia. Kherson. Russia!”

“I would be happy if they wanted to join Russia,” Natalia Bodner, a 37-year-old lawyer, told AFP. “They have more hope than we do,” she said.

These four territories form an important land route between Russia and Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

All five regions, including Crimea, together make up about 20% of Ukraine, and Ukrainian forces have retaken territory in recent weeks.

Zelensky on Friday hailed “significant results” from the Ukrainian counterattack in the east.

Ukrainian forces are on the doorstep of Lyman in Donetsk, which Moscow forces attacked and occupied for weeks this summer.

“Ryman is partially surrounded,” Denis Pushlin, the pro-Moscow leader of the Donetsk segregation area, said on social media, adding that Russian forces were holding out “with the last strength”.

Leaders of four Kremlin-installed regions formally demand annexation after claiming residents backed the move in a hastily organized referendum that was dismissed as fraudulent by Kyiv and the West did.

Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Friday, while China abstained.

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