Update(10:23ET): With the ink drying on the official annexation declarations newly signed by the heads of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Friday's historic ceremony - the key takeaway from President Putin's lengthy speech is that he declared a "mission accomplished" of sorts. He said these eastern and southern provinces are now part of Russia "forever". He even touted that the referendums were accomplished in line with the UN charter on self-determination for all peoples, and vowed "They have made their choice... this is the only path to peace. We will protect our land using all our forces and we will protect their security. We will of course rebuild all destroyed towns and continue building hospitals, theaters, and schools."
Putin bluntly informed the large audience of top officials at Saint George's Hall at the Grand Kremlin Palace of Moscow that there are now "four new regions of Russia" - a fait accompli that the Ukrainian government and its Western backers are rejecting, also on fresh reports that pro-Kremlin forces have suffered more setbacks in Donetsk in particular. Earlier in the week Moscow acknowledged that its "special operation" will continue until at least all of Donetsk is captured. At this point, none of the entirety of each of the four regions are yet under total Russian military control, the overwhelming "yes" votes among citizens in favor of joining the Russian Federation notwithstanding.
This means Kiev is of course unlikely to accept Putin's essential assertion of we've taken the four territories, now let the negotiations begin [our paraphrase]. "We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately stop hostilities and sit at the negotiating table," Putin said.
Certainly Washington and London will seek to ensure Kiev isn't enticed by this - also as the weapons shipments continue to ramp up, with longer range missile systems in the pipeline to boot. As for the newly annexed territories, Putin made clear in his speech that we "won't negotiate the status of the annexed territories" and further that he "won't discuss" the now finalized results of the referendums. This follows Crimea having long been taken off the table since its own popular referendum and annexation in 2014.
And with all eyes on the devastating sabotage against the Nord Stream pipelines, he pointed the finger squarely at Washington: "They are destroying European energy infrastructure... it's clear who benefits." According to his statements:
Putin blamed the United States for this week’s unexplained explosions at the Nord Stream pipelines that have left the damaged pipelines leaking huge amounts of natural gas into the Baltic Sea.
"It’s obvious to everyone who did it," he said.
On the issue of dwindling energy supplies and soaring costs headed into what's sure to be a rough, frigid winter for European populations, he slammed Western elites for a problem of their own making...
"They print money, but you cannot warm your homes with this printed money... They have to convince their citizens to shower less, eat less, and put on warm clothes."
"The Western elites.. it's a crisis due to their own fault." He described that the goal of the "hybrid war" in Ukraine has a "Goal to break Russia at any costs."
"The dictatorship of the Western elite is directed against all societies, including against the peoples of those Western countries themselves. It’s a challenge for all. This means the total negation of the human, the overthrow of religion and traditional values as the crushing of freedom becomes to look like the opposite of religion – open Satanism," he said, repeating a familiar theme of his, and while rejecting "LGBT"/gender ideology as a threat to Russian society which the West seeks to impose...
"Do we really want to have a parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 instead of mom and dad in Russia? Do we want children to be told that there are other genders besides men and women? Is this the future we want for our children? For us, this is unacceptable," the Russian president said.
I've watched a lot of Putin speeches over the last 10-15 years and this is the most anti-US one by a really long way.— max seddon (@maxseddon) September 30, 2022
If I were a western policymaker wondering if he'd really use nuclear weapons – and he hasn't even got to them yet – I'd be very concerned. pic.twitter.com/3lXMRH4YkI
All eyes were also on the lookout for any references to Russia's nuclear stance, with The Moscow Times relating his words as follows:
He also slammed Washington's past use of nuclear weapons, comments that follow his warning last week that he "wasn’t bluffing" about resorting to "any means necessary" in Ukraine.
"The U.S. is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons," Putin said. "Creating a precedent."
As Putin spoke in the Kremlin, hundreds of Russians gathered in Red Square in front of a stage emblazoned with the words "Donetsk. Luhansk. Zaporizhzhia. Kherson. Russia!"
In the latest sign that following the annexation declaration things are only going to escalate from here, Ukraine's President Zelensky has on Friday responded to Putin's speech by requesting "accelerated" entrance into the NATO alliance.
And more of Ukraine's immediate response to Putin's annexation speech:
⚡️Zelensky: Ukraine won't negotiate with Putin.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) September 30, 2022
Ukraine offered Russia "to agree on coexistence on equal, honest, dignified, and fair terms," but this is impossible with "this Russian president."
"We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia." pic.twitter.com/MwiYdUBV2t
As for the US response, it vowed to "not stand by as Putin fraudulently attempts to annex parts of Ukraine." New expanded sanctions against Russian individuals and entities were swiftly announced...
"Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 14 persons in Russia’s military-industrial complex, including two international suppliers, three key leaders of Russia’s financial infrastructure, immediate family members of some of senior Russian officials, and 278 members of Russia’s legislature for enabling Russia’s sham referenda and attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory. In addition, OFAC issued new guidance that warns of the heightened sanctions risk that international actors outside of Russia would face for providing political or economic support to Russia as a result of its illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory."
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Just ahead of a Friday ceremony declaring the official annexations of the four occupied Ukrainian regions which held controversial referendums, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed two decrees which recognized the "independence" of Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.
"Recognize the state sovereignty and independence" of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions "effective from the day of signing," the two decrees stated. This paved the way for Friday's ceremony where he's expected to give a major speech which will incorporate those two territories plus Donetsk and Luhansk. WATCH Putin's speech declaring annexation live:
According to Russian state media, "In the documents, Putin refers to the universally recognized principles and norms of international law, and the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, enshrined in the UN Charter."
In contrast to this Kremlin perspective, Western officials and media sources are slamming the big 'land grab' - which comes at a moment the entirety of these territories are not yet under Russian military control. A White House statement said in response to the "sham" referendums, "The United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. Russia’s referenda are a sham – a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter."
Putin said in a televised meeting with officials on Tuesday as voting closed in the four regions: "Saving people in the territories where this referendum is taking place... is the focus of the attention of our entire society and of the entire country."
But according to the latest battlefield update from Reuters, which cites pro-Russian officials in the breakaway eastern republics, things aren't going well on Donetsk amid the ongoing large Ukrainian counteroffensive:
Russian forces in Ukraine were on the verge of one of their worst defeats of the war even as President Vladimir Putin was due to proclaim the annexation of territory seized in his invasion.
The pro-Russian leader of occupied areas in Ukraine's Donetsk province acknowledged his forces had lost full control of Dobryshev and Yampil villages, leaving Moscow's main garrison in northern Donetsk half-encircled in the city of Lyman.
In response to the declared Kremlin annexation of the four territories, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has convened an emergency meeting of top officials on Friday in which "fundamental decisions" will be taken, according to a Ukraine official cited in Reuters.
Preempting likely Ukrainian escalation against the newly absorbed territories, the Kremlin has once again reiterated that "Any strikes targeting the new areas after their accession to Russia will be considered aggression against us," in a new Friday statement. Putin's speech is being delivered to a large audience of top officials in Saint George's Hall at the Grand Kremlin Palace.