Vladimir Putin repeats one of his most controversial moves. As it did with Crimea in 2014, on Friday it signed a decree to celebrate the annexation of four Ukrainian territories occupied by the Russian army as part of the invasion of its neighboring country: Lugansk and Donetsk in the east, Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.
Putin was defiant in his intervention before the Russian political elite, addressing Westerners to affirm that the annexation is irreversible, despite international condemnation.
“I want to say this to the kyiv regime and its masters in the West: the inhabitants of Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia now become our citizens forever,” Putin said.
“We urge the kyiv regime to immediately cease firing, all hostilities and return to the negotiating table,” Putin added.
Eight years ago, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula cost Moscow multiple economic sanctions and its exit from the G8, since then the G7, but without an effective response from Ukraine.
However, Putin can now pay a much higher price this time around – a turning point in the post-Soviet era – as the government of Volodimir Zelensky has promised a major counteroffensive to recapture these territories.
In addition, the economic sanctions against Russia, added to the 9,353 it has received since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, may end up sinking the Russian economy.
an illegal annexation
The leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) rejected this Friday and condemned “unequivocally” the “illegal annexation” of four Ukrainian regions by Russia, which they consider a “flagrant violation” of Ukraine’s rights.
In a statement released by the European Council, the leaders of the region pointed out that “we do not recognize and will never recognize the illegal referendums that Russia has designed as a pretext for this new violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, described the annexation as an “illegal and illegitimate” operation.
“This land grab is illegal and illegitimate. NATO allies do not and will not recognize any of these lands as part of Russia,” Stoltenberg said at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
In the United Nations Security Council, the United States and Albania proposed a resolution condemning “illegal referendums,” which are invalid” and “cannot form the basis of any alteration of the status of these regions,” including “any alleged annexation”.
It also called for Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces” from Ukraine.
The text received the vote in favor of 10 of the 15 member countries of the Security Council —including Mexico— but was vetoed by Russia itself, one of the permanent members. Brazil, China, Gabon and India abstained.
“They intentionally force us to use our veto so that they can launch into lyrical exercises about the fact that we abuse our right,” attacked the Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who denounced that the resolution constituted a “hostile action by the West” and a “provocation ” and it was a “new example” of his “double standards”.
Reactions and sanctions
In response, the United States announced “severe” sanctions against Russian officials and the country’s defense industry, saying the G7 allies had agreed to sanction any state that supports annexation.
“We will not stand idly by while Putin attempts to fraudulently annex parts of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“The United States unequivocally rejects Russia’s fraudulent attempt to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including by holding bogus ‘referendums,'” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The US Treasury Department said it has imposed sanctions on 14 people from Russia’s military-industrial complex, two heads of the country’s central bank, relatives of high-ranking officials and 278 members of the Russian legislature “for allowing false Russian referendums and attempted annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.”
The Treasury also issued guidance warning of a higher risk of sanctions for those outside Russia if they provide political or economic support to Moscow.
Among those appointed are Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak; 109 members of the State Duma; the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly and 169 of its members; and the Governor of the Central Bank of Russia, Elvira Nabiullina.
Among the targets linked to Russian defense acquisitions is a Chinese supplier that the Treasury has accused of supporting Radioavtomatika, a Russian defense acquisition company targeted by the United States.
Washington said Sinno, previously included on the Commerce Department’s entity list, maintained a relationship with the Russian firm even after the Ukraine invasion.
The Commerce Department also added 57 entities from Russia and Crimea to its export blacklist.
In a separate statement, the State Department said it had placed visa restrictions on more than 900 people, including members of the Russian and Belarusian militaries and “representatives of Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.” , prohibiting them from traveling to the United States.
Ukraine seeks NATO
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday.
The Ukrainian president also assured that he will not negotiate with Russia while Vladimir Putin is in power, shortly after the Russian president asked Ukraine to cease hostilities.
“Ukraine will not negotiate with Russia as long as Putin is the president of the Russian Federation. We will negotiate with the new president,” Zelensky said.
“We took a decisive step by signing Ukraine’s candidacy for accelerated NATO membership,” Zelensky said in a video posted on social media.
The NATO secretary general warned however that Ukraine’s accession to the military alliance will require the consensus of member countries.
What’s next for Russia and Ukraine?
Several voices have warned that this Russian decision could make a negotiated solution to the war much more complicated. UN chief Antonio Guterres called it a “dangerous escalation” and a violation of the United Nations Charter.
This move makes it “much more difficult, practically impossible, for the war to end,” said Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat, in an interview with Spanish public television RTVE on Saturday.
Shortly after, Borrell took part in a debate forum in La Toja (Galicia, northwestern Spain), in which he defended the European policy of sanctions against Russia, claiming to insist on them.
“Russia is losing” the war, “it has already lost it in moral and political terms”, but “Ukraine has not yet won”, he warned.
Two days after the signing of the annexation decree, the Ukrainian army liberated the town of Liman, in the Donetsk region in the east of the country, one of the territories annexed by Putin.
“At 12:30 local time (4:30, Mexico City time) Limán is totally free. Thanks to our military!” Said the Ukrainian president in a video posted on social networks.
Hours earlier, Zelensky welcomed the advances of his troops around this key city – an important railway junction in the annexed Donetsk region – and assured that next week “new Ukrainian flags will fly in Donbas”, in the east of the country, where the Ukrainian army is fighting back.
He also sent a message to the Russian soldiers and officials: “As long as they have not solved the problem of who started it all, who unleashed this senseless war against Ukraine, they will die one by one, becoming scapegoats, because they do not admit that this war is a mistake. historic for Russia.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive has allowed kyiv to retake large swathes of territory in the region, forcing the Russians to withdraw.
Ukrainian forces made their biggest advance in the south of the country since the start of the war, breaking into the front line and moving rapidly along the Dnipro River on Monday, threatening to encircle thousands of Russian troops.
kyiv gave no official confirmation of the progress, but Russian sources acknowledged that a Ukrainian tank offensive had advanced tens of kilometers along the western bank of the river, retaking a number of towns along the way.
The advance is a reflection of recent Ukrainian successes in the east that have turned the war against Russia on its head, even as Moscow has sought to up the ante by annexing territory, ordering mobilization and threatening nuclear retaliation.
“The information is tense, let’s put it that way, because there was indeed progress,” Vladimir Saldo, the leader installed by Russia in the occupied parts of the Ukrainian province of Jershon, told Russian state television.
With information from AFP and Reuters