Putin annexes Ukrainian regions as part of Russia

Picture source- AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties Friday for an illegal annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of his seven-month invasion of Ukraine. Its leader immediately countered with a surprise application to join the NATO military alliance.

Putin’s land-grab and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s signing of what he said is an “accelerated” NATO membership application sent the two leaders speeding even faster on a collision course that is cranking up fears of a full-blown conflict between Russia and the West.

Putin vowed to protect newly annexed regions of Ukraine by “all available means,” a nuclear-backed threat at a Kremlin signing ceremony where he also railed at the West.

Zelenskyy then held a signing ceremony of his own, releasing video of him putting pen to papers that he said were a formal NATO membership request.

Putin has repeatedly made clear that any prospect of Ukraine joining the world’s largest military alliance is one of his red lines and it was among the justifications he has cited for his invasion.

In his speech, Putin urged Ukraine to sit down for peace talks but immediately insisted he won’t discuss handing back occupied regions — keeping him on a collision course with the Ukrainian government and its Western backers that have rejected his land-grab.

In a Kremlin ceremony at the ornate St. George’s Hall to herald the annexation of the occupied parts of Ukraine, Putin accused the West of fueling the hostilities as part of what he said is a plan to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “crowds of slaves.” The hardening of his position, in the conflict that that has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people, further cranked up tensions, already at levels unseen since the Cold War.

The European Union responded to Putin’s latest step with a joint statement rejecting and condemning “the illegal annexation” of the four regions: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

The EU’s 27 member states said they will never recognize the illegal referendums that Russia organized “as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Ukraine vowed to continue fighting, and Zelenskyy announced the “accelerated” NATO application, although it wasn’t immediately clear what that would mean, since it requires the unanimous support of the alliance’s members.

“De facto, we have already proven compatibility with alliance standards. They are real for Ukraine — real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction,” Zelenskyy said. “We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other. This is the alliance.”

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