Putin says 'victory will be ours' after annexing Ukraine regions; 'no negotiations', says Zelensky

The announcement ceremony in Kremlin’s opulent St. George’s Hall comes three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that was dismissed by Kyiv.
The signing of the treaties making the four regions part of Russia follows the completion of the Kremlin-orchestrated 'referendums.'(Photo | AP)
The signing of the treaties making the four regions part of Russia follows the completion of the Kremlin-orchestrated 'referendums.'(Photo | AP)

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday warned the West that the people of four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions were "our citizens forever" as he prepared to formally annex them at a Kremlin ceremony.

'Victory will be ours!' Putin tells Russians on Red Square

President Vladimir Putin on Friday told thousands of Russians gathered on Red Square that "victory will be ours" after seven months of fighting in Ukraine and the Kremlin annexing four territories from Kyiv.

"Russia not only opens the doors of her home to these people, she opens her heart. Welcome home!" he said in an address broadcast on television after a ceremony at the Kremlin to annex the Ukrainian regions.

"I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in the Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia (regions) are becoming our citizens forever," Putin said, adding that they had made an "unambiguous choice" to join Russia.

He urged Ukraine to sit down for talks to end the fighting but warned sternly that Russia would never surrender control of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and would protect them as part of its sovereign territory.

He accused the West of fueling the hostilities as part of its plan to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “crowd of slaves.”

Zelensky hails 'significant results' of counteroffensive in east Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday hailed the successes of Ukraine's counteroffensive in the east, as Kyiv's forces appear to be edging closer to retaking the key town of Lyman, which Moscow captured in the spring.

"We have significant results in the east of our country. There is already enough public information about this. Everyone has heard what is happening in Lyman, Donetsk region. These steps mean a lot to us," Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation.

His remarks come after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday formally annexed four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine -- including Donetsk -- in a lavish ceremony in the Kremlin, following hastily organised referendums condemned by the West.

"We must liberate our entire land and this will be the best proof that international law and human values cannot be broken by any terrorist state, even one as insolent as Russia," Zelensky said.

He said that Ukraine's path is "difficult", but it is one of "independence, territorial integrity, integration with the civilised world and social development".

"The path of our enemy is also completely clear -- defeat, shame and condemnation," Zelensky said.

The Kremlin-backed leader of Donetsk said Friday that Russian troops and their allies were holding on to Lyman with "their last strength" and that Moscow's forces in the town were "partially surrounded".

Ukraine will not negotiate with Russia as long as Putin is in power: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Friday that he would not negotiate with Russia as long as President Vladimir Putin is in power.

"Ukraine will not hold any negotiations with Russia as long as Putin is the president of the Russian Federation. We will negotiate with the new president," Zelensky said, after Putin annexed four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions.

Putin not planning visit to annexed Ukraine regions: Kremlin to agencies

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not yet planning a visit to the four Ukrainian regions he formally annexed on Friday, his spokesman told Russian news agencies.

"Not yet, there is a lot of work to be done but over time it will certainly happen," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, answering a question from reporters.

The ceremony in the Kremlin’s opulent white-and-gold St. George’s Hall comes three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that was dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies.

Putin and his lieutenants have bluntly warned Ukraine against pressing an offensive to reclaim the regions, saying Russia would view it as an act of aggression against its sovereign territory and wouldn’t hesitate to use “all means available” in retaliation, a reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Asked about Russia’s plans, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that at the very least Moscow aims to “liberate” the entire Donetsk region.

US, allies not 'intimidated' by Putin: Biden

President Joe Biden said Friday that the United States and NATO will not be "intimidated" by Russia's President Vladimir Putin and warned that the Western alliance would defend "every inch" of its territory.

"America and its allies are not going to be intimidated," he said in remarks at the White House. Putin is "not going to scare us."

Biden then addressed the Kremlin leader directly, warning against any attack on NATO territory.

"America's fully prepared, with our NATO allies, to defend every single inch of NATO territory," he said. "Mr Putin, don't misunderstand what I'm saying: every inch."

The annexations are Russia's attempt to set its gains in stone, at least on paper, and scare Ukraine and its Western backers with the prospect of an increasingly escalatory conflict unless they back down — which they show no signs of doing. The Kremlin paved the way for the land grabs with “referendums,” sometimes at gunpoint, that Ukraine and Western powers universally dismissed as rigged shams.

With Ukraine vowing to take back all occupied territory and Russia pledging to defend its gains, threatening nuclear-weapon use and mobilizing an additional 300,000 troops despite protests, the two nations are on an increasingly escalatory collision course.

The Russian-backed separatist leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said the city is now “half-encircled” by Ukrainian forces. In comments reported by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, he described the setback as “worrying news."

”Ukraine’s armed formations," he said, "are trying very hard to spoil our celebration,”

(With inputs from AP and AFP)

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