Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday announced that Russia is annexing four regions of Ukraine.
In defiance of the international community and international law, Putin on Friday signed treaties to begin the process of absorbing parts of Ukraine into Russia. The four regions being annexed are Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine.
Putin and the heads of the four regions of Ukraine put their names on treaties for them to join Russia. The action represents a sharp escalation in the seven-month conflict in Ukraine, which began on February 24 when Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine — dubbed as a special military operation.
The signing of these treaties came three days after the completion of "referendums" organised by Moscow on joining Russia that were dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies. The results of the referendums were believed from the beginning to be in Russia's favour as voting in occupied areas would either be rigged or forced.
The four regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia comprises around 15 per cent of Ukraine. Along with Crimea which Russia annexed in 2014, Russia now lays claim to —and controls large parts of— around 20 per cent of Ukraine.
Russia controls most of the Luhansk and Kherson regions, about 60% of the Donetsk region, and a large chunk of the Zaporizhzhia region where it took control of Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
Reactions to the Russian annexation
Ukraine, Europe, and the West has rejected the Russian annexation. The international community has largely termed the Russian annexation as illegal.
The European Union (EU) said that, with the annexation, Putin was putting world security at risk.
"We firmly reject and unequivocally condemn the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. By wilfully undermining the rules-based international order and blatantly violating the fundamental rights of Ukraine to independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, core principles as enshrined in the UN Charter and international law, Russia is putting global security at risk," said EU in a statement.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "The United States rejects the illegitimate, fabricated outcomes of Russia’s sham 'referenda' in Ukraine. This is a violation of international law. We stand in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."
US President Joe Biden said Putin's actions "have no ligitimacy".
"Russia is violating international law, trampling on the United Nations Charter, and showing its contempt for peaceful nations everywhere...We will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to regain control of its territory by strengthening its hand militarily and diplomatically, including through the $1.1 billion in additional security assistance the United States announced this week," said Biden.
The Biden administration announced another round of sanctions in response to Putin's annexation of Ukrainian territories. More than 1,000 Russian persons and entities are being sanctioned in the latest round.
Fourteen persons in Russia's military-industrial complex, including two international suppliers, three key leaders of Russia’s financial infrastructure, immediate family members of some of senior Russian officials, and 278 members of Russia’s legislature for enabling Russia’s "sham" referendums, have been sanctioned, said US Department of Treasury on Friday, adding that Department of State is imposing visa restrictions on another 910 individuals.
Prime Minister of United Kingdom Liz Truss said that the UK would continue to help the Ukraine and "ensure he loses this illegal war".
"Vladimir Putin is once again violating international law with his threats to annex more of Ukraine. We will not hesitate to take further action, including imposing more sanctions to cripple Putin’s war machine. We will ensure he loses this illegal war," said Truss.
Implications of Russian annexation
Putin's announcement of four regions of Ukraine by Russia is a sharp escalation of conflict between the two countries.
The subsequent announcement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Ukraine is "accelerating" its NATO membership application further sets the two countries on a collission course. Ukraine's potential membership with the NATO is a red line for Russia.
NATO —North Atlantic Treaty Organisation— is the world's largest military alliance. The NATO functions under the collective defence principle, which means that an attack on one country is an attack on all countries. NATO, led by the United States, has been at the fore of Ukrainian war efforts with supply of weapons, ammunition, and intelligence. However, it has been a long-standing position of NATO and United States that their personnel would not fight from the side of Ukraine.
Putin on Friday urged Ukraine to sit down for peace talks but immediately insisted he will not 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.
Putin's announcement of the annexation of Ukraine comes after weeks of Ukraine's stunning victories in the country's east where Ukrainian forces have forced to Russian military to flee for several towns. Ukrainian forces have liberated several towns in eastern Ukraine after months of Russian occupation since earlier this month after launching a counter-offensive.
The presence of Ukrainian forces on land that Putin has now announced to have annexed gives justification to Putin for escalating the conflict there.
Notably, Putin vowed to protect newly annexed regions of Ukraine by "all available means", which is understood to be reference to the usage of nuclear weapons if he feels the usage is required.
Now that Putin has annexed these territories, Putin can further mobilise his military and call more people to the frontlines by saying that Russians have to liberate the territories encroached by the Ukrainians, as Putin has claimed those territories as Russian.
(With AP inputs)