Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree for the formal accession of four regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to the Russian Federation, a move Kiev has decried as wholly illegal.
Presiding over a signing ceremony with the Russian-installed heads of the four regions in the Kremlin on Friday, Putin announced that people in these regions are now considered Russian citizens as they have made their choice in referendums.
The Russian leader stressed that Ukraine has to respect the will of the people, vowing to defend the Russian land with all means.
The development came after people in the four regions voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation in a referendum.
However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the hastily organized votes breached international law and called the referendums “worthless.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also depicted Russia’s accession as “a dangerous escalation,” while US President Joe Biden said Washington will never recognize Russia’s accession of Ukrainian territory.
Putin: Russia ‘not striving’ for return of Soviet Union
Putin also said on Friday that Russia was “not striving” to recreate the Soviet Union, an accusation repeatedly leveled against the Russian leader by Western powers.
“The USSR is no more. We can’t bring the past back. And Russia doesn’t need it anymore. We are not striving towards that,” he said.
Putin once famously said that anyone who didn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union had no heart, but anyone who wanted it restored had no brain.
Prior to the accession, the Russian president had notified the parliament about the measure, the head of Russia’s lower chamber of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin said on Friday.
Volodin confirmed on the State Duma’s official Telegram channel that Putin had informed the parliament of official requests by the regions.
Any attack on new regions is an attack on Russia: Kremlin
Meanwhile, Kremlin has announced that any attack on the new territories is considered an attack on Russia itself.
Asked by reporters if an attack by Ukraine on the new territories would be considered an attack on Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “It would not be anything else.”
Russia has said that it would fight to take the whole of the eastern Donbas region, with Putin saying last week he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.”
Asked what would happen to the territory that is not under Russian control, Peskov said: “It is to be liberated.”
Luhansk and Donetsk, with a combined population of about 6 million before the offensive, are collectively known as the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking center of coal mining and heavy industry until their economies were wrecked by the fighting from 2014 onwards.
Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the 2014 Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.