Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has fast-tracked his country’s NATO application after Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally annexed a further four regions of Ukraine.
Troops are set to move into the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of the country. It comes after Russia held ‘referendums’ in the region, which have been labelled as “sham” polls by the West.
A Russian rocket strike on the region of Zaporizhzhia which occurred earlier today (30 September). The strike killed at least 23 people, and left 28 others injured.
The latest move from Russia comes after a huge Ukrainian fightback in the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian troops regained more than 3,000 sq/km of ground. As a result of the loss of ground, Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” to bolster military forces.
In reaction to the annexation, Zelensky has said that Ukraine has submitted a fast-tracked application to join the NATO alliance. One of the reasons Putin gave for entering Ukraine for in the first instance was over security fears that NATO was expanding eastwards towards Russia.
What did Putin say about annexing Ukraine?
Russian officials gathered in the Kremlin on 30 September - just over seven months since Russian troops moved over Ukraine’s eastern border - to hear a speech from President Putin. In his speech, he confirmed what many had speculated since the referendums were announced to take place.
He said: “The results are known, well known. People made their choice - the only choice.” The Russian leader added that the annexation of the four regions was the “natural right” to those who voted in the referendum, adding: “I’m sure that the Federal Assembly will support the four new regions of Russia, four new subjects of the Russian Federation... because this is the will of millions of people.”
Putin positioned the annexation, which he described as non-negotiable, as a chance to “rebuild” the regions as new areas of Russia. He said that Russia would build schools and hospitals in towns which have been left in ruins amid the conflict.
The Russian leader added that Kyiv officials should “take this expression of will with great respect”, referring to the polls held by Russian officials in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
He spoke in length about the former Soviet Union and its lasting legacy, and accused the West of trying to break Russia up into smaller regions. He said: “They are restless that such a rich country exists”
The situation mirrors that of the beginning of the larger conflict in February 2022. Putin’s troops moved into the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk under the guise that they were “liberating” the regions from Ukraine. In the eyes of Putin’s administration, this latest move will see these regions, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, be regarded as part of Russia.
What has Zelensky said about the situation?
In response to the situation, Zelensky has submitted the fast-tracked application for Ukraine to join NATO. The country has been attempting to join the defence alliance since before the conflict between Ukraine and Russia broke out.
In a post to Telegram, Zelensky said: “We have already proven our compatibility with Alliance standards. We are taking a decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to NATO.”
However, it remains to be seen whether or not NATO will allow Ukraine to join the group while the conflict is ongoing.
What has been the reaction to the annexation?
The move has been resoundingly denounced by Ukraine and the West. In a statement, UK 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.”
In a statement, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, said: “We firmly reject and unequivocally condemn the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. By wilfully undermining the rules-based international order and blatantly violating the fundamental rights of Ukraine to independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, core principles as enshrined in the UN Charter and international law, Russia is putting global security at risk.”
Ms von der Leyen added that the European Council “will never recognise the illegal ‘referenda’ that Russia has engineered as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”.