Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed bills formally absorbing four Ukrainian regions into Russia, even as its fleeing troops lose control of the regions it illegally annexed to Kyiv’s counterattacks.
The documents finalising the annexation carried out in defiance of international laws were published on a Russian government website on Wednesday morning.
Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions part of Russia.
That followed Kremlin-orchestrated ‘referendums’ in the four regions that Ukraine and the West have rejected as a sham.
On the ground, Moscow’s war in Ukraine has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Russia faces mounting setbacks, with Ukrainian forces retaking more and more land in the east and in the south – the very regions Moscow has pushed to annex.
Analysts fear the annexation represents an escalation in Putin’s invasion, giving Moscow grounds to defend the territories again the Ukrainian counterattacks with more drastic measures, such as the use of nuclear weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured in Moscow on Tuesday) has signed bills formally absorbing four Ukrainian regions into Russia, even as its fleeing troops lose control of the regions it illegally annexed to Kyiv’s counterattacks
The four Ukrainian regions Putin seeks to steal are Luhansk and Donetsk, in the east, and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, in the south, but his armed forces are not in full control and fighting is continuing across all of them – with Ukrainian forces pushing into the territories
The borders of the territories Russia is claiming still remain unclear, but the Kremlin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory – the newly absorbed regions, too – with any means at its disposal, including nuclear weapons.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the annexation by announcing a fast-track application to join NATO and formally ruling out talks with Russia over a peace deal.
Zelensky’s decree, released Tuesday, declares that holding negotiations with Putin has become impossible after his decision to take over the four regions of Ukraine.
The head of Zelensky’s office, Andriy Yermak, wrote on his Telegram channel shortly after Putin signed the annexation that ‘the worthless decisions of the terrorist country (Russia) are not worth the paper they are signed on.
‘A collective insane asylum can continue to live in a fictional world,’ he added.
Kyiv’s military said Wednesday they have recaptured more villages in the southern Kherson region as a part of their massive counteroffensive effort.
Operational Command South said that the Ukrainian flag has been raised above Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka villages.
Despite Putin’s annexation of much of Ukraine’s eastern territory, a stunning Ukrainian counter-attack east out of Kharkiv has slowed but has not stopped, with the city of Lyman now under Kyiv’s control and its troops pushing towards the cities of Svatove and Kreminna
In the south-east, Ukraine has also been steadily fighting its way towards the city of Kherson for the last two months, and may have scored a breakthrough this week amid reports of Russian forces withdrawing more than 10 miles
General Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe, has outlined what he believes to be Ukraine’s path to victory against Russia – saying that ‘Crimea is the prize’ and the war will end ‘when the last Russian soldier walks along the [Kerch bridge, connecting the peninsula with mainland Russia]’ Pictured: A map demonstrating Hodges’ Ukrainian ‘path to victory’. Much of the regions shown in red were annexed by Putin, but his forces are losing ground
On the battlefield on Wednesday morning, multiple explosions rocked Bila Tserkva, setting off fires at what were described as infrastructure facilities in the city to the south of the capital Kyiv, regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.
Early indications are that the city was attacked by so-called ‘kamikaze’ or suicide drones, he said. Bila Tserkva is about 50 miles south of Kyiv.
Russia has increasingly been using suicide drones in recent weeks, posing a new challenge to Ukrainian defenses.
The unmanned vehicles can stay aloft for long periods of time before diving into their targets and detonating their payload at the last moment.
Many of the earlier attacks by the Iranian-made drones happened in the south of the country and not near the capital, which hasn’t been targeted for weeks.
In a later post, Kuleba said that a total of six Shahed-136 drones struck the city, one of the largest in the region after Kyiv itself. One person was injured in the attacks.
Dozens of rescue workers were on the scene and still working to extinguish the fires hours after the attacks were reported, he said.
Ukrainian servicemen attend the ceremony of raising the National flag in the recently recaptured city of Lyman, Donetsk area, Ukraine, October 4, 2022
A BM-21 ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launcher fires at Russian positions in Kharkiv region, October 4
Meanwhile, officials in Ukraine said thousands of Russian soldiers have already called a hotline set to surrender in a fresh humiliation for Putin’s bedraggled army.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence, said that in just a few weeks some 2,000 people have called the ‘I Want To Live’ hotline in order to give themselves up.
Calls have come from soldiers in Ukraine, those still in Russia who have been conscripted, and some who have not even received draft orders yet who wanted to check the procedure, Yusov claimed.
It comes after Putin ordered 300,000 conscripted men to be sent to the frontlines in Ukraine in order to prop up his failing invasion.
Elsewhere, European Union member countries agreed on another round of sanctions against Russia over its aggression against Ukraine, the Czech EU presidency said on Wednesday.
‘Ambassadors reached a political agreement on new sanctions against Russia – a strong EU response to Putin’s illegal annexation of Ukraine territories,’ the presidency said on Twitter.
The latest package – the eighth since Russia’s invasion in February – is now going through a final approval procedure which, if no objections emerge, will be published and come into effect on Thursday.
Russia is suffering heavy losses trying to hold territory it has gained in seven months of war, as Ukraine re-takes territory in the north and south (pictured, a destroyed tank in the north)
The remains of a Russian column that attempted to escape from the city of Lyman despite being surrounded by Ukrainian troops, and was destroyed
And in another blow to the Kremlin, Kazakh authorities on Wednesday rejected a demand from Russia that they expel Ukraine’s ambassador over comments about killing Russians, chiding Moscow for what they called an inappropriate tone between ‘equal strategic partners’.
Russia’s ties with Kazakhstan and some others of its ex-Soviet allies have become strained during the war in Ukraine, notably over attempts by Putin to renege on post-USSR border agreements in the country’s east.
Tensions escalated after Ukraine’s ambassador in Astana, Petro Vrublevskiy, said in August in an interview with a local blogger, referring to the war in Ukraine, that ‘the more Russians we kill now, the fewer of them our children will have to kill’.
Russia demanded that Kazakhstan expel the diplomat in response, but Astana instead asked Kyiv to replace him, telling him his comments were unacceptable for a country with a large ethnic Russian minority.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Tuesday said Moscow was ‘outraged’ by the fact that Vrublevskiy was still in Astana, and had summoned the Kazakh ambassador.
Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov on Wednesday called Zakharova’s tone ‘discordant with the nature of the allied relations between Kazakhstan and Russia as equal strategic partners’, adding that the Russian ambassador would in turn be summoned to the Kazakh ministry.
Smadiyarov said Vrublevskiy would leave Kazakhstan once a new Ukrainian ambassador was in place.
Kazakhstan has traditionally maintained close economic and security ties with Russia, but distanced itself from Moscow after it invaded Ukraine in February.
Astana has called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict – which Moscow terms a ‘special military operation’ – and refused to recognise referendums through which Russia annexed parts of Ukraine.