In a ceremony meant to mark the carving up of parts of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a Kremlin audience that it was the U.S. and its Western allies who were trying to carve up Russia.
After widely discredited plebiscites in four Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin marked their incorporation into Russia, claiming it was the choice of “millions of people” with long cultural, linguistic and historical ties to Moscow.
While Ukraine and the vast majority of countries around the world have not recognized the land grab, Mr. Putin said the absorbed territories were an integral part of Russia and would be defended as such.
“We will protect our land using all our forces and we will do everything to ensure people’s security,” he said, announcing the formal annexation of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed the Kremlin’s latest move, saying Kyiv remains determined to recover all of the regions now under Russian control.
“Everything will be Ukraine,” Mr. Zelenskyy posted on his Telegram channel Friday.
While his seven-month war has suffered serious reverses on the battlefield and rising resistance at home, Mr. Putin on Friday stuck to many of the themes he used to justify the original invasion, claiming at one point the separatist statelets seeking to join Russia had been “victims of inhumane terrorist attacks conducted by the Kyiv regime.”
And he again blamed the West for what he said were provocative policies toward Russia that helped spark the war.
“The West is always looking for new opportunities to hit us and they always dreamed of breaking our state into smaller states who will be fighting against each other,” he said. “They are prepared to do everything using this neo-colonial system to rob all other countries in the world.”
“They don’t want to see us as a free society. They want to see us as a band of slaves,” he said.
In his first public comments on the still-mysterious attacks on Russian-owned natural gas pipelines built to supply European markets, the Russian leader said “Anglo-Saxons in the West” sabotaged the Nord Stream I and II pipelines in an effort to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”
“Those who profit from [the attack] have done it,” he said, even as some in the West have speculated that Russia itself carried out the Baltic Sea operation.
Mr. Putin on Friday rejected accusations that he was trying to recreate the Soviet Union, but said Russian-speaking populations now living in other countries after the collapse of the Soviet empire had a natural desire to return to the motherland.
“There is nothing stronger than the will of these people to come back to their historic roots,” he said.
Friday’s annexation followed the playbook of the Russian takeover of Ukraine‘s Crimea region in 2014, another referendum that only a handful of smaller countries have recognized as legitimate.
The houses of the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament still must meet next week to approve the treaties, a step considered a mere formality.
The ceremony came as Russian troops were trying to hold off a strong Ukrainian counteroffensive that has already reclaimed some of the land meant to be included in Mr. Putin‘s annexation order.
Ukrainian officials were already condemning what they said was a Russian S-300 missile strike Friday that killed at least 25 people in Zaporizhzhia and wounded 50 others. Officials in Kyiv said the salvo hit a convoy of vehicles organized to ferry relatives back to safety from Russian-occupied territory, the Associated Press reported.
• This article was based in part on wire service reports.