Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Moscow-appointed heads of four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Russia September 30, 2022 at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday declared four new regions in the country, shortly after holding mock referendums in parts of occupied Ukraine.
“There are four new regions of Russia,” Putin said at a televised ceremony from the Kremlin in Moscow, according to a translation.
“The results are known, well known,” Putin said, referring to the series of votes that Ukrainian and Western governments say violated international law. He claimed the results were due to the will of millions of people who had the right to self-determination.
The territory, seized more than seven months after the Kremlin war began, consists of two pro-Russian “republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk to the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhia to the south. It is believed to make up approximately 18% of Ukraine’s land, although the exact details of the borders were not immediately clear.
A man casts his ballot during a referendum on the secession of Zaporizhia region from Ukraine and its annexation to Russia in the Russian-controlled city of Melitopol in Zaporizhia region, Ukraine September 26, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters
Unsurprisingly, in the votes deemed illegitimate by Ukraine and its allies, a majority of the people voted to join Russia.
Echoing previous claims that the West is trying to undermine Russia, Putin said: “The West is looking for new ways to meet us and they have always dreamed of splitting our state into smaller states that will fight each other.”
“You cannot be satisfied with this idea that there is this big country with everything [these] natural riches and people who will never live under foreign oppression,” he added.
His comments come shortly after a civilian convoy in the southern city of Zaporizhia was hit by a Russian attack, killing at least 23 people.
The members of the convoy were on their way to the Russian-occupied territory to pick up their relatives, the city’s governor said. Moscow issued a statement that the attack was carried out by Ukraine.
Ukraine said the referendums were conducted “under the barrel of a gun” and called on its international allies to immediately step up tough sanctions on Russia to stop it annexing more territory, as it did with Crimea in 2014 .
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony to formally annex four Russian-held regions of Ukraine — Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia — at the Kremlin in Moscow September 30, 2022.
Dmitry Astakhov | AFP | Getty Images
Kyiv said it will not stop fighting until it has regained every inch of land lost to Russia and said it will not negotiate with the Kremlin after the so-called referendums.
For its part, Moscow has warned that it has “the right” to use nuclear weapons to defend its territory and citizens if it feels there is an existential threat, or even if it is under attack from conventional weapons.
This has raised concerns that it could resort to using nuclear weapons against Ukraine now that more regions have been annexed and Moscow can claim them, albeit falsely, as its own. An official at Ukraine’s Defense Ministry told CNBC this week that Kyiv understands the threat of such an attack is “real.”
Ahead of Putin’s declaration that Russia has four new regions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the so-called referendums “have no legal value and deserve to be condemned”.
“It goes against everything that the international community is supposed to stand for,” Guterres said on Thursday. “It disregards the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It’s a dangerous escalation. It has no place in the modern world. It must not be accepted.”
Moscow’s latest move is believed to be likely to further escalate and prolong the war, making it more difficult to reach a peaceful resolution.
A destroyed Russian tank is seen as a Ukrainian soldier rides on a tractor and tows a Russian military vehicle amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, near the village of Dolyna in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, September 23, 2022.
Gleb Garanich | Reuters
Changes to Russia’s constitution made under Putin in 2020 mean it is illegal for Russia to cede part of its territory to a foreign power, meaning it will likely never willingly return territory to Ukraine.
All indications are that Putin is deciding to up the ante in the war after escalating nuclear rhetoric and ordering a military mobilization that has seen 300,000 reservists called up, many of whom tried to flee the call-up to serve in fight Ukraine bad training and little equipment.
Western nations have vowed to continue to support Ukraine, repeating the mantra that they would do so “whatever it takes”, but there are fears that support could wane should the war drag on for months and years; There are already concerns that the US and Europe are running out of arms to send Ukraine, which largely relies on NATO weapons to continue the war.
Meanwhile, Westerners are dealing with the aftermath of the war in the form of higher energy and food prices, and may begin to pressure their own governments to rebuild ties with giant energy and wheat exporter Moscow to ease those pressures.
Putin has opened “a conflict that is transforming international politics, rocking the world economy, reshaping relations between East and West … and between the West and the Global South … for years, maybe decades, to come,” said Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group speech Wednesday.
“This still-spreading conflict was and is the work of one man, but its impact has upended lives and livelihoods in every region of our still highly interconnected world.”
— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.