Vladimir Putin has officially signed several treaties which annex parts of occupied Ukraine into Russia, in a major breach of international law.
During a major speech in the Kremlin on Friday, the Russian president said: “I want the Kyiv government and their real bosses in the West to hear me … Residents of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson are becoming our citizens forever.”
This is very significant in terms of the ongoing war, and shows the Russian president is now escalating the conflict to new levels after a series of losses.
Even before the speech, the UN secretary general described the move as “a violation of the Principles of the UN Charter and international law”.
The Russian president has now officially made the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia part of Russia.
It comes after Putin made a presidential decree recognising the “state sovereignty and independence” of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia on Thursday.
The president already recognised the “independence” of The Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic back in February – they are two breakaway regions, controlled by Russian separatists.
Putin justified his invasion back in February by alleging that these areas needed to be “liberated” from the Ukrainian government. Still, soldiers from these regions have reportedly refused to take part in the war against the rest of Ukraine.
There’s still significance violence happening in the other two regions though.
Kherson was seized early in the invasion and the locals initially pushed back in several viral videos which circulated at the time.
Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant is based in Zaporizhzhia, meaning the ongoing battles there have become a source of major concern internationally due to the dangerous nature of the site.
This comes after Moscow holding sham referendums supposedly allowing the public to vote on which country they wanted to be part of.
Moscow does not actually have full control of each of these regions, either politically or militarily, with several cities in each area still resisting Russian forces.
But, according to Ukrainian officials, ballot boxes were taken from door to door and residents were coerced into voting in front of Russian troops.
What does this mean – and why it is such a big deal?
This is widely seen as the crossing of a new boundary, as it shows Putin is willing to go to new lengths to control Ukraine.
The president has said he is willing to go to any means necessary to protect these new territories, stoking further fears of a nuclear war.
Putin’s words are particularly provocative considering his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly vowed to reclaim every area of Ukraine from Russia.
Zelenskyy said the annexation would be “a catastrophe”, promising Putin would get no new land, and adding ominously in a message on the Telegram app: “We know how to react to any Russian actions.”
Despite major losses in the last few weeks, Moscow is doubling down on its annexation of these territories – and scuppering any chance of future peace negotiations.
Russia changed its constitution earlier this year to forbid giving up any territory which has formally annexed.
Moscow officials even started preparing for a major concert near Red Square for Friday evening, decorated with a banner which reads: “Together forever.” State TV also included a countdown to the event at the Kremlin.
It’s worth noting that Russia has already annexed one part of Ukraine – the peninsula of Crimea, which it took in 2014. Some commentators have subsequently described this act of aggression from Russia as the real beginning of the war between the two countries. Zelenskyy has also vowed to reclaim this territory too, and mysterious explosions in the region have undermined the strength of Russia’s base there.
How has the rest of the world reacted?
Many leaders condemned Putin’s plan before he officially made the regions part of Russia, and Western allies have stuck by their commitments to continue sending Ukraine weapons and money.
On Friday morning, prime minister Liz Truss said: “Vladimir Putin has, once again, acted in violation of international law with clear disregard for the lives of the Ukrainian people he claims to represent.
“The UK will never ignore the sovereign will of those people and we will never accept the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as anything other than Ukrainian territory.
“Putin cannot be allowed to alter international borders using brute force. We will ensure he loses this illegal war.”
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that this was a “moment of peril” for the world.
He explained: “Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the Principles of the UN Charter and international law.
“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”
US president Joe Biden said the US would never recognise Putin’s claim on the territory, dubbing the referendums an “absolute sham”, with results “manufactured in Moscow”.
Similarly, Poland’s leader Andrzej Duda spoke to Zelenskyy on Thursday and reportedly agreed “on the need for a powerful consolidated world reaction to the illegal actions of the Russian Federation, which destroys the foundations of international law”, according to the Ukrainian president.
Ekaterina Schulmann, Russian political scientist, also provided a very bleak summary to The Guardian.
She said: “Russian Federation as we knew it will pass into a new phase of its existence, having become a state with a delegitimised border, including fragments that not only won’t be recognised by any state or international organisation de jure, but won’t be controlled by its central administration de facto.”
Has Russia broken international war before?
Russia has been accused of breaking international war before over its attacks on Ukrainian civilians.
Investigators are still gathering evidence about this from tragic incidents such as the Bucha massacre, although Russia has strongly denied any such claims.
So, while world leaders including Biden have sounded the alarm about such war crimes – including potential genocide – the investigation on these matters is still yet to conclude anything.
This breach with the annexation of Ukraine land, however, is more clear-cut, because Russia have openly accepted the findings of referendums rejected by the rest of the international community. The annexation of Crimea, back in 2014, was also a major breach of law.
And this isn’t the only development in Russia….
The ministry of defence emphasised in its Thursday update that since Putin introduced partial mobilisation of Russia’s reserves while increasing his nuclear war threats, people have been leaving the country in droves.
The UK officials explained: “The better off and well educated are over-represented amongst those attempting to leave Russia.
“When combined with those reservists who are being mobilised, the domestic economic impact of reduced availability of labour and the acceleration of ‘brain drain’ is likely to become increasingly significant.”